The Hamilton Spectator

Plant-based proteins can save you money


Food prices are soaring, and as CEOs of Canada’s major grocery stores defend themselves before a parliament­ary hearing investigat­ing food prices, everyday shoppers continue to cope with tight budgets and mouths to feed.

Some Canadians have taken to coupon clipping and shopping at discount stores, many for the first time. But what if there was another way to cut the grocery bill that simply involves shifting from one nutrient source to another?

I’m talking protein, one of the costliest, albeit most important building blocks of nutrition.

Meat prices rose 7.4 per cent in January, the highest increase since 2004. And while many plant-based sources of protein have not escaped inflation either, when compared pricewise by the amount of protein per gram, foods like chickpeas, beans, lentils and tofu prevail as most affordable.

Although that is not true for highly processed meat alternativ­es.

A report from Dalhousie University last year found that plant-based meat alternativ­es aren’t always the most economical choice compared to heavily subsidized meat.

Burger King’s plant-based Impossible Whopper for example, may be better for the animals and the planet, but the processed meat alternativ­e costs a few bucks more than its animal-based counterpar­t.

However, switching from meat to whole-food plant proteins, such as swapping out beef for lentils in your chili, or chicken for tofu in your stir fry, is going to save money.

Registered dietitian Pamela Fergusson did the calculatio­ns and determined that 100 grams of protein in skinless chicken breast costs around $10, while 100 grams of protein in tofu (which has not seen a price increase in the last 12 months) costs around $6.

Further, 100 grams of protein in a beef top sirloin costs around $8 and 100 grams of protein in a pork loin is around $7.

The same amount of protein in lentils, you will pay just under $3, chickpeas just over $2. This is based on Manitoba pricing. But Nital Jethala, director of VegTO, says prices are similar in his Toronto neighbourh­ood.

“The data in most cities does not support the argument that plantbased diets are more costly, and Toronto is no different,” he says. “If we factored in the subsidizat­ion of animal-based foods and taxpayer savings from health care and environmen­tal benefits, it would be even cheaper to eat a vegan diet.” Fergusson agrees. “Plant-based proteins offer great value, are packed with hearthealt­hy fibre and are better for the environmen­t,” she says. She suggests plant-protein newbies give black bean burritos or lentil tacos a try.

“You can also start by replacing half the animal protein in a dish with plant-based, for example Shepherd’s Pie with half meat and half lentils.”

Unlikely plant-protein fan, agricultur­e journalist Geralyn Wichers recently wrote in “Learning to love the musical fruit,” that she had long loathed beans.

But “Enter inflation.” After trying a few flavourful recipes including vegan butter chickpeas, and deeming tacos the “gateway drug,” and also saving a few bucks, Wichers concludes, “I’ve been converted. If they’re cooked well, I like beans.”

Your pocketbook, the planet and the animals will, too.

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