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Alternative Proteins? No Whey!

Over the past year, I’ve set some challenging fitness goals for myself. From joining a quirky workout group to running my first half marathon – I’ve started a quest to improve my wellbeing and it doesn’t stop at the gym. This fitness journey has sparked my interest in protein and various ways to incorporate it into my day. Protein plays a big part in our wellbeing – it helps promote healthy muscle mass, manages weight, improves heart health, and even stabilizes blood sugar.

Many people immediately default to meat when they hear protein, but there are many alternative sources that are more sustainable. As a food scientist, I get to work with a lot of these unique sources and learn about some of the amazing innovations in our industry. Here’s my quick guide to some interesting alternative proteins and why it’s important to branch away from traditional sources.

Crickets: Bug-based protein is getting a lot of buzz in the food industry. Companies are innovating a wide range of products from chips to bars. Though it may not appeal to everyone, cricket flour is a great alternative because of its sustainability. Crickets require less water and feed, and they produce less greenhouse gasses than traditional meat sources. Not sure if you’re ready to take the leap? Don’t worry – I did it for you and tried the Chapul Thai Bar made from cricket protein powder. Rest assured, there’s no buggy taste or texture.

Whey: Not quite ready to try out insects? Let’s jump into something a little more familiar. Whey is a household item showing up in products from post-workout powders to infant formula. This common protein source may not seem all that exciting, but it is unique because it helps reduce a waste stream. Whey is a natural by-product in the cheese making industry that can be turned into the nutritious powder that we’re all familiar with. Just be careful if you’re trying it out for the first time because some people have trouble digesting it. If you’re in the mood for dessert, pick up some vanilla whey powder and try making these protein ice cream pops.

Algae: Algae is a unique source of plant-based protein that’s packed with nutrition. It can be utilized whole rather than as an isolate from the rest of the plant, meaning it retains other nutrients in addition to protein, such as vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. You’ll find it on grocery shelves as ‘spirulina’ and can’t miss it thanks to its vibrant blue-green color. Spirulina is also gaining steam because it could be a strong option to help combat malnutrition in developing countries. It grows naturally in warm water and has the potential to provide businesses, jobs, and a cheap nutrition source for many people. The Guardian summarizes the economics if you’re interested in learning more. Try adding algae to your morning smoothie bowl for a nutritious (and photo-worthy) breakfast.

Pulses: Even though you might not recognize the term “pulses,” you probably already have some in your pantry. Pulses are dried legumes such as peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas. These items are packed with protein and micronutrients, making them an awesome vegetarian and vegan alternative to meat. Pulses also help the environment since they’re great rotational crops – they balance nitrogen levels in soil which helps keep the land fertile and increase crop yields. Check your pantry for pulses and try making this delicious sweet potato chickpea coconut curry.

Why are alternative proteins so important? While meat may be delicious, its high consumption rates aren’t sustainable. As the population grows so does the demand for meat, which is hard to keep up with. This demand requires a lot of natural resources, funds, and contributes to increased greenhouse gases. Decreasing your consumption of meat is good for the environment and also your health. So join me for Meatless Monday’s with some of these suggestions and keep an eye out for other sources like hemp seeds, nuts, and breadfruit!

Author: Samantha Spaulding, Chew Food Scientist