There are plenty of misconceptions about vegetarians and vegans. One of the top misconceptions is that vegetarians don’t get enough protein with a meatless diet. I have even heard people say vegetarians can’t build muscle like meat eaters can because they are protein deficient. Both are myths. Vegetarians can easily get enough protein, (and muscle!) especially with a little planning.
Remember protein comes from a lot of sources. At my house, the men are meat eaters, I am “flexitartian” meaning vegetarian with occasional consumption of poultry and fish; and my daughter is vegan. So, variety of protein sources is key in our kitchen. My boys love nothing more than a grilled juicy steak (grass fed of course).But,you don’t have to consume an 8-ounce steak to get your protein quota. In fact, with an 8-ounce steak, you also get a wallop of saturated fat. Vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike can find protein in nuts, seeds, and legumes. If you eat dairy, you can get your protein from eggs, and low fat milks and cheeses. (One of my favorite treats is Greek yogurt with 2 tbsp raw almonds, a total of 11g of protein.) Leafy greens are also protein packed with 1 cup of cooked spinach having a whopping 13 grams.
Get protein in your side dishes. When people think protein they often think of the main dish such as eggs or fish. But you can get a lot of your protein needs for the day from a variety of side dishes using beans and legumes and grains. Beans and legumes offer a flavorful, inexpensive and protein-rich alternative to meat. One-quarter cup of beans or legumes contains the same amount of protein as an ounce of meat. (We make a batch or two of hummus weekly.) Try a black bean burger! Also popular at my house is quinoa, a gluten free grain loaded with fiber and a decent source of protein.
Substitutes for your favorite meat-based dishes. Soy products in moderation can be healthy alternatives to meat just make sure they are organic to avoid GMO foods. Tempeh, is from the soy family and growing in popularity as a protein source. Made from fermented sobybeans and mixed with grains like rice or barley, it has a nutty flavor and firm textrue. Four ounces supplies 22 grams of protein. Seitan is another favorite among vegetarians. Made from the protein in wheat, it is chewy and dense and often used in dishes as “mock meat”. One serving supplies 18 grams of protein.
Make some protein shakes. My personal favorite type of protein is whey protein from BiProUSA. You can add it to any smoothie recipe and enjoy as a meal replacement or as a snack after a workout. Whey is considered dairy so if you don’t eat dairy, try hemp protein powder, rice or pea protein powder or another favorite brand of mine, Vega.
Make sure you don’t overdo it on the carbs. Too often people give up eating meat, but end up eating more carbohydrates and snacks as a result. A diet high in simple carbohydrates puts stress on the body causing spikes and drops in blood sugar leading to hunger and cravings. Even the famous high protein/low carb diet known as the Atkins Diet, has great plans and recipes for vegetarians and vegans. Their newest cookbook, The New Atkins for a New You, has a full chapter of delicious vegetarians recipes that follows the low carb/ high protein protocol. Atkins recently did a study that found lots of people have carb confusion and eat far more carbs than they may realize. Atkins now encourages people to find a good carb balance and to eat carbs high in fiber such as vegetables, berries, seeds and nuts.
Always be on the lookout for ways to get more protein into your diet without meat. Look for recipes where you can include kidney beans, chickpeas, quinoa, lentils, nuts, and low-fat dairy products. Snack on foods like trail mix and sunflower seeds. Add nuts and seeds to salads or other dishes. Veggies and fruits also can contribute significant amounts of protein. One cup of avocado has 3 grams of protein and a medium potato with skin has 4 grams.
If you thought you’d like to gravitate toward a vegetarian or vegan diet, or you simply want to eat less meat, know you can do so without needing to worry about whether you are getting enough protein. With a little planning you can get all the protein you need!