If you’re a vegetarian or just toying with the idea of eating less meat, people will inevitably ask you over and over: How are you going to get enough protein?
Most seasoned vegetarians will tell you that if you eat a wide variety of healthful foods, protein isn’t much of a problem. A cup of asparagus has three grams of protein. A cup of milk has eight grams. The average woman needs about 46 grams a day—a number that isn’t hard to reach.
Athletes need more protein, as do pregnant and nursing women. If you’re trying to build muscle, or your doctor or dietitian suggests you watch your protein intake closely, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough in your diet. Also, the more educated you are about nutrition, the more effectively you can lecture those nosy people who think vegetarians are doomed to waste away.
To keep things simple, let’s refer to “vegetarians” as people who don’t eat meat, and vegans as people who don’t eat any animal products (eggs, milk, etc.) at all.
Beans are generally an easy and cost-effective way to get protein, especially if you cook them yourself instead of buying canned. Still, a can of beans is pretty cheap, so they’re not going to break the bank either way.
There used to be a lot of concern about combining foods to make a “complete” protein, as beans don’t have all the essential amino acids. Now it’s understood that you probably don’t have to eat those complementary foods at the same meal. Even so, rice and beans is a tasty combination and popular for a reason..
Tofu, tempeh, and edamame, yum! Tempeh is a fermented soy cake, often made with other grains. Both tempeh and tofu can both taste pretty awful if you don’t cook them in a tasty way, but they can be great in the right hands. Hint: Steam tempeh before sauteing or baking.
Women with cancer or hormone issues should talk to their doctors about how to eat soy in a balanced way, but plenty of healthy people include soy in their diets. Sneaky soy byproducts in processed foods can be the real problem.
Why do you think all those weightlifters drink chocolate milk after workouts… other than the fact that chocolate milk is delicious? Dairy has a great combination of carbohydrates and proteins for recovery, or so they say. Greek yogurt has incredible amounts of protein, and is low in carbohydrates.
Ah, the humble egg. It’s had its public relations issues, but it still has a lot to offer: Riboflavin, Vitamin B12, Phosphorus and Selenium, along with about six grams of protein a pop. Yes, the yolk has the most fat and cholesterol, but it also has most of the nutrients.
Also known as “wheat meat” because it’s made of gluten. Hey, where are you going? Come back! Gluten isn’t evil unless you have a sensitivity to it, much like dairy. Some bodies handle it better than others. You can make your own seitan from vital gluten flour, or buy it in pre-made natural food stores. Often, if you’re getting “fake meat” at an Asian restaurant, it’s some kind of flavored seitan.
KEEN-wa is a tasty grain that also happens to include a complete protein. Win-win! Rinse it first to remove the naturally-occurring bitter coating, then serve it to all of your friends, carnivore and vegan alike, in a salad or where you would serve another grain like rice.