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Seek Plant Variety in a Plant-Based Diet

An overview of Dr. Chris Marinangeli's study of the effect of increasing intakes of plant protein on the protein quality of Canadian diets.

Apr 16, 2021

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With the support of the most recent iteration of the Canadian Food Guide, more and more Canadians are reaching for protein from plant sources. But not all protein is created equal.

While you might measure gram-for-gram animal versus plant protein, plants tend to have a lower protein quality than animal sources. Moreover, Canada's current labelling regulations can make it difficult to label non-animal foods, such as pulses, as a “source of protein.” This presents a challenge for Canadians to identify foods with high plant-protein levels at the point of purchase. Dr. Chris Marinangeli, our Director of Nutrition, Science & Regulatory Affairs, is working to better understand the protein quality in Canadian diets as plant protein increases and identify challenges and opportunities for Canadians to consume more protein from plants.

Chris and the team of experts analyzed the diets of 6,500 Canadian adults over 24 hours and found the protein quality decreased as the proportion of plant protein increased. This was because cereal-type foods made up the majority of plant protein rather than a variety of sources, causing an imbalance in the intakes of essential amino acids.

Compared to animal proteins, plant proteins typically have a lower protein quality because they have lower protein levels and one or more essential amino acids. However, Canadians can increase the protein quality of plant-based diets by consuming a variety of sources, like legumes, nuts, seeds and cereals, achieving a more balanced profile of essential amino acids that better align with amino acid requirements.

From this study, Chris and the team identified a need to develop strategies to help Canadians choose a variety of protein foods as outlined in Canada’s Food Guide. This should include reviewing the current regulatory framework for protein claims so that Canadians can identify more plant protein foods in the grocery store. Head to the link to read his study on the effect of increasing intakes of plant protein on the protein quality of Canadian diets:

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Pulse Canada is the national association of growers, traders and processors of Canadian pulses, also known as lentils, dry peas, beans and chickpeas. Pulses are an essential part of a healthy and sustainable diet. Pulses and pulse ingredients can help food manufacturers improve the nutritional and functional quality of food products.