When Canada’s Food Guide was updated in January 2019, some people were surprised to see a shift to a more plant-based diet. While the move upset the dairy industry in particular, Health Canada defended the move and said it was revised based on the best available scientific evidence.

For those of us who are aged 50 and over, the switch to the new guide may take some adjustment. We’ve been living with it for a long time. As a kid in public school, it was in the forefront and we were well acquainted with its neat chart with colourful illustrations. We were taught that this was how we should be choosing our foods. It stuck with me for decades.

Canada’s Food Guide. Source: Health Canada

Growing up, I had never heard of vegetarians or vegans. My family was very much a meat and potatoes one – roast beef on Sundays, Kentucky Fried Chicken on Fridays when my dad got paid or pork chops swimming in a sauce of cream of mushroom soup during the week. A meal without meat was an unnatural phenomenon.

When I moved to Toronto, I met my first vegetarians. They seemed like very exotic to me, like they were from France or somewhere. I couldn’t understand why they’d choose to go meatless. I had so many questions. Wouldn’t that make you sick? Aren’t you craving a burger right now? Why would you choose to live like that? Slowly, I let go some of my pre-conceived notions as I learned more about their reasons whether it was because of animal welfare concerns or health-related reasons.

These days, I really try to make some meatless meals throughout the week. My partner, Brian, resisted at first. He had grown up in the same era I had and adopted the same perception that you needed meat to make a meal. It was my homemade vegan chili with corn and black beans that won him over. I swapped ground beef for Yves Veggie Ground Round and it worked beautifully. It’s a dish I make often, serving it over rice or putting the mixture into burritos.

I attempt to add other plant-based swaps whenever I find good ones. It’s still a bit hit and miss. Some products just don’t have it right and they scream, “Don’t’ mind the taste. This is good for you!” That’s not good enough for me to make the switch.

Up until recently, I was sceptical about vegan cheese. So many of the ones I tried were really awful. Recently, I discovered  a very good one that delivered big time on taste. Nuts For Cheese is a Canadian company based in London, ON, and was founded by a vegan chef Margaret Coons. She uses organic, fermented cashews as a base for her vegan cheeses. They are incredibly creamy and smooth. I loved the chipotle cheddar smeared on toasted bagels. I put a wedge of the smoky artichoke and herb on a charcuterie board at a dinner party without telling anyone it wasn’t regular cheese. It was the first cheese to disappear. I’ll definitely be buying these again.

I’m not giving up meat or animal-based products, but I want to eat less for both health and environmental reasons. Current estimates say that 20 to 50 percent of man-made greenhouse gases come from livestock farming. Even small changes in our diets will help, so why not?

7 Easy, Tasty Ways To Consume More Plant-Based Foods

  1. Cashew milk. For those days when I eat a bowl of cereal, I’ll use cashew-based milk because it still tastes creamy. Some other types taste too watery to me. Avoid the flavoured ones which tend to have a lot of sugar.
  2. Nuts, seeds and other salad toppers. I used to put bacon bits or cheese on top of my salads to give them some pizzazz. Now, I sprinkle on sunflower seeds (a good source of vitamin E) and Hemp Hearts from Manitoba Harvest that have more protein than chia or flax per serving. They’ve got a nutty taste that is great on yogurt, too.
  3. Coconut-based yogurt. A new one worth trying is Vegan Delight by Maison Riviera, especially the mango and passionfruit flavour. It has a smooth, creamy texture and is low in sugar (about 9 g for 175 g serving). It packs a nutritional punch with vitamins A, B12, D, calcium and 4 grams of protein for ¾ cup serving.
  4. Healthier frozen treats. In summer, it’s hard not to crave ice cream. Instead, try a dairy-free treat like the PC Blue Menu Fudge Smoothie Bars. They taste decadent, yet have just 80 calories per bar. Also delicious are So Delicious Mocha Almond Fudge Bars at 180 calories each.
  5. Vegan mayo. I was prepared not to like it, but it may surprise you, too. It’s pretty darned good – to the point where I didn’t miss the egg-based version. Hellmann’s new vegan mayonnaise has a nice bright, lemony flavour that works well with tuna, pasta salad, etc.
  6. Protein powder. Smoothies can be great as quick meals or to help supplement diets. Tomake them more satisfying, consider adding Hemp Yeah! Plant Proteinmade with hemp and pea protein. There is an unsweetened version, but there’s also chocolate and vanilla variations. They contain sugar so adjust portions accordingly. 
  7. Vegetarian burgers. I still love a big beefy burger, but I choose carefully, electing to eat hormone- and antibiotic-free beef. Along with traditional burgers, I’ve found some good alternatives after plenty of sampling. Some “burgers” went into the trash. They were awful, but I really like Beyond Burgers and PC Thick & Juicy Portobello Swiss Vegetarian Burgers.