April 24th, 2019

From Our Table: Focus on variety

By Medicine Hat News on January 29, 2019.

Submitted Photo
Benjamin's Shepherd Pie is pictured in this photo.

The new Canada Food Guide was unveiled last week and it’s causing quite a stir. Food industry especially is really rattled. There is a lot to discuss regarding the changes but I’d just like to focus on one simple statement front and centre on the new Food Guide. That is:

“Eat a Variety of Healthy Food Each Day”

This is a really important statement that most health professionals have been teaching for many years. One of the biggest controversies with the revised Food Guide is an emphasis on plant based protein foods. Plant based proteins include legumes such as peas, beans and lentils. These foods are full of protein, fibre and are low fat and low cost. They have always been and still are a healthy food choice.

However let’s zoom in on one key word in that title — “Variety.”

Yes plant based protein food is part of a healthy diet with its nutritional benefits just mentioned. But chicken is also a great source of protein and so are eggs and cheese and pork and beef and fish. Each of these protein sources has its own nutritional claim to fame. We can eat well and live well with all of them.

Animal sources of protein are a “complete protein” meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids. Red meat is also a high source of a type of iron called heme which is the most easily absorbed source of iron in food. Fish has omega-3 fats that are of benefit to the body’s cholesterol levels. Plant based proteins are not complete and need to be combined with other protein sources that have the amino acids they are missing to make them complete. An example is black beans combined with brown rice.

My family fondly refer to themselves as “meatavores.” I tried doing meatless meals on occasion and they would eat it then ask where the main course was. Consequently one of my favourite ways to use legumes has always been to combine it with red meat. I put a wide variety of beans in my chili sometimes with or without ground beef or turkey. I also add lentils to almost anywhere I use ground beef — tacos, spaghetti sauce, burgers. It cuts down on cost and increases the fibre content with no added fat. Generally you can use 1 cup of cooked lentils as a substitute for 1 pound of ground beef.

In the Food First groups that I teach through the food bank legumes are a key element we focus on because they are nutritious and low cost. Here again we often combine them with ground beef. Kids (and some adults) are much more likely to eat them this way.

I really enjoy tofu and legumes like lentils, black beans and chickpeas. However I also enjoy a lovely lean grilled steak or a pork loin roast or whitefish like cod or tilapia and my favourite stir fry is with chicken. They can all coexist in glorious nutritional harmony in a diet filled with a variety of healthy choices.

Variety always has and always will be the spice of life!

Here’s a delicious recipe my youngest son Benjamin makes for us adapted from chef supreme Renae Buss.

Joanne Smith is a registered dietitian.

Benjamin’s Shepherd Pie

7 potatoes

1/4 cup milk

2 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp Boursin Herb N Garlic cheese (optional) could also use plain cream cheese

1 tsp onion salt

1 1/2 lbs ground beef

1 1/2 cups cooked lentils (can be puréed if trying to hide them)

1 package onion soup mix

1/4 cup minced onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper

2 cans mushroom soup

2 cans niblet corn, drained

1-2 cups grated cheese

Peel potatoes and cut into small even pieces. Place in pot and fill with water just to cover. Bring to boil reduce to simmer and cook until tender. Drain and mash with milk, butter, cheese and onion salt.

Brown ground beef and lentils with onion soup mix, onions, garlic, and pepper and cook until beef is cooked through. Add mushroom soup and corn and stir well.

Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray then put ground beef mixture in the bottom. Top with mashed potatoes and spread evenly. Sprinkle with grated cheese and place in preheated 350 F oven uncovered for 45 minutes or until heated through.

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