A healthy vegetarian diet, or any other diet for that matter, is impossible without a sufficient protein intake. To get a more complete picture, you should imagine proteins as building blocks of your organism. These macronutrients are responsible for most of the chemicals in your body as well as muscle, skin, bones, and blood.
There is a common, albeit wrong, belief that a vegetarian diet doesn’t provide a sufficient amount of protein. If nutritionists got a dollar for each “if I eat vegetarian, how do I get enough protein?” they hear, they would all be super-rich.
Getting enough protein on a vegetarian diet is surprisingly simple, if you follow certain rules. The choice to become a vegetarian actually entails that you have to be well-informed about the foods you consume.
If I Eat Vegetarian, How Do I Get Enough Protein? – When Enough Is Enough
As a vegetarian, you probably already know that proteins grow on other living things besides those that run, fly, or lazily lounge around their sty. Some vegetarian foods are an equally efficient source of protein as the above-mentioned creatures. However, this still doesn’t bring you any closer to knowing how to get the right quantities of protein on a vegetarian diet.
Rather than stocking up on vegetarian foods with plenty of protein to keep you running all day, it pays to understand how much is “enough.” Defining “enough” is important because people tend to overestimate the amount of protein they need. Protein obsession is especially prevalent in the United States, where both vegetarians and non-vegetarians consume large amounts of protein. That’s not to say that Europeans are immune to this obsession, though.
No matter where you live, the amount of protein you actually need can be calculated by calories or grams per pound. To simplify things, roughly one in ten calories you consume needs to be from some sort of protein. The recommended dose of protein is 0.36 grams per pound of your weight, so if you weigh 180 pounds, you need about 65 grams of protein to stay healthy.
The calculus is a little different if you are an athlete or exercise regularly. Depending on your gym routine, you would need up to 0.86 grams of protein per pound of body weight, but no more than that. You might be surprised that the recommended daily intake can be obtained without using any vegetarian protein supplements. However, you do need to follow a relatively strict dietary regime that consists of vegetarian-friendly protein-packed foods.
The bottom line is that more protein, even when it’s vegetable based, doesn’t necessarily translate into a healthier diet. You should thus carefully select the best foods that can give you the required 0.36 grams of protein per day.
If I Eat Vegetarian, How Do I Get Enough Protein? – The Foods That Do the Job
To begin with, different types of vegetarians can get their protein from different sources. Lacto and lacto-ovo vegetarians can eat eggs and dairy products, so they actually get some animal-based protein. Things are a bit more difficult for vegans who only eat plant-based products.
Regardless of the category you belong to, the following foods are all excellent sources of protein and are suitable for any vegetarian.
1. Soy-Based Products
The common answer to the question “if I eat vegetarian, how do I get enough protein” might be to eat a lot of soy. And in many respects, the answer is absolutely true. There are so many different soy products that it would be hard for you to get bored of them.
The most common are, of course, tofu and soy milk—a great dairy substitute perfectly suitable for vegans. In addition, a few soy products are enhanced with nutrients like vitamin B12, calcium, iron, etc. When it comes to protein, a cup of soy milk contains about 7 grams, while half a cup of tofu has about 10 grams of protein.
2. Grains Galore
Grains, especially whole grains, are among the staples of a healthy vegetarian diet because of their high protein content. For example, a single cup of cooked quinoa has about 18 grams of protein. Besides protein, quinoa is also rich in the fiber you need for a healthy vegetarian diet.
There are also some less exotic whole grains that provide a sufficient amount of protein. Simple barley and brown rice have almost the same amount of protein as quinoa but they are more readily available. On top of that, a vegetarian diet that consists of common whole grains is really affordable. You should be able to create a stock of brown rice and barley for only a few bucks.
The word tempeh has a nice, healthy-sounding ring to it, but there is more to this fermented soy product than just the cool name. This Indonesian meat alternative is an excellent source of protein for all vegetarians or anyone else who is curious to try it.
Admittedly, the actual protein content might vary depending on the tempeh brand you get. However, a general rule of thumb is that there are around 18 grams of protein per 100 grams of tempeh.
4. Seeds, Nuts, and Then Some
Adding plenty of nuts and seeds to your vegetarian diet is an excellent way to boost your protein consumption—unless, of course, you are allergic to nuts. Seeds, on the other hand, are OK for most vegetarians even though they don’t contain as much protein.
The best way to supplement your vegetarian diet with seeds and nuts is to consume a healthy combination of both. Nuts are usually very rich in fats and even though these fats are mostly healthy, you should go easy on them. Mixing some sesame and sunflower seeds with walnuts and almonds would thus provide a tasty base for a healthy vegetarian meal. If you add some soy milk on top, you get a protein-packed meal few others can match.
If you have read this article, you should now know the complete answer to the question “if I eat vegetarian, how do I get enough protein.” Getting enough protein is only one part of a healthy vegetarian diet, though. You should consume plenty of fibers, minerals, and vitamins as well.
Remember, more protein doesn’t equal a better diet. For this reason, it pays to learn more about the foods that provide you with all the key nutrients that are essential to a healthy diet.