Protein Power for Summer Barbecues

The Atkins and low carb. crazes have peaked and are now fading away; in the process we learned a thing or two. First that refined white flour and refined white sugar are bad, bad, bad for you. Second that when you cut calories, it’s important to make sure that your menu includes plenty of protein-packed foods.

What were the disadvantages of the Atkins and low carb. diets?

1)      An acidic state of ketosis, with accompanying nausea and bad breath.

2)      A fibre shortage that upped the risk of constipation, diverticulosis, and cancers of the colon, breast and prostate. (Fibre is only in plant foods.)

3)      High total fat and saturated fat, linked conclusively to heart disease.

4)      Insufficient fruits and vegetables, causing a lack of phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals, our protectors against chronic disease such as cancers and cardiovascular disease.

Yet if we don’t clog up our system with burgers and cheese, how do we get the necessary protein? In beef, about 33 percent of the calories are from protein; (the rest is from fat, 40 percent of it saturated). In cheese, 25 percent of the calories come from protein; (the remainder is fat, mostly saturated, plus a little lactose sugar). Which other foods provide such high proportions of protein? Check the plant foods in this Table.

Table. Percentage Calories from Protein









Salad greens








Kidney beans




Tofu, firm


Veggie “meats”, (low fat)


Veggie “meats”, (higher-fat)


* Such as anasazi, black, lima, mung, pinto, red, or white beans; or split or black-eyed peas.

Of course, one has to eat plenty of broccoli (4 cups cooked or 7 cups raw) to get the same amount of protein as a 3-ounce burger provides. Yet vegetarians and raw fooders and are happy to pile their plates with an assortment of veggies, and they tend to stay slim but well nourished in the process. Alternatively, one can select from a wide assortment of veggie burgers at local supermarkets and come up with a delicious and protein-packed choice for summer barbecues. In addition, veggie burgers typically add iron, zinc, and vitamin B12 to the diet (check the label).

When I work with clients who are shifting in the direction of plant foods, a typical challenge is finding practical ways to get protein-rich meals in the regular course of one’s life. Yet this is easily accomplished in a variety of settings and with numerous lifestyle preferences. Shopping malls provide falafels, Oriental tofu dishes, Mexican bean burritos, and veggie hot dogs. Bean, pea, or lentil soups are excellent slimming choices, anywhere. Beyond peanut butter, bag lunches can provide a veggie “meat” sandwich, or hummus and pita bread. The summer picnics of many companies and families include vegetarian burgers and dogs as an alternative to the meat versions. Raw fooders discover that an immense assortment of whole plant foods, along with the typical large servings at meals, can provide sufficient protein very simply.

The Ultimate Burger

From “Raising Vegetarian Children”, Stepaniak and Melina, McGraw-Hill, 2003

If you’re introducing others to veggie burgers, have fun by laying out a spread of “fixin’s”, so everyone can create their favorite taste combination.


A variety of mustards, from simple yellow mustard to gourmet Dijon blends
Soy or other eggless mayo
Barbecue sauce
Pickle relish
Chili sauce
Tomato slices
Sliced dill pickles
Sliced red or white onion
Avocado slices
Soy cheese slices
Veggie bacon, cooked in a little oil, for one minute on each side.


Get fresh whole wheat bakery rolls or Kaiser buns, in place of regular hamburger buns.


Veggie burgers require a different approach preparation from meat burgers. They don’t require the long cooking that meat burgers require, in fact if you cook these low-fat burgers for the same length of time, you will dry them out, and soy protein becomes a little tough if overcooked. Whether you are pan-frying your burgers in a little oil to give a browned flavor, placing them on the barbecue, or heating them in a microwave, use a minimum of time.

Vesanto Melina is a registered dietitian and author based near Fort Langley. She is co-author of \”Cooking Vegetarian\”,“The New Becoming Vegetarian” (US title), “Becoming Vegetarian” (Canadian title),  “Becoming Vegan”, “Raising Vegetarian Children” and of Dietitians of Canada’s “Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets”. For personal consultations call 604-888-8325 (clinic) or 604-882-6782 (home office); web www.camd58.sg-host.com.


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