By Asha Kreiling
Any vegan or vegetarian will tell you the question they are asked most often from meat eaters is “Where do you get your protein?” As a vegetarian with vegan tendencies, I expect this question to come up in every conversation about my diet. It gets old, but I am always ready with a laundry list of answers. Protein is ubiquitous in all foods we eat, and a balanced vegan or vegetarian diet adequately provides all the essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein. In fact, by eating just beans, you can obtain all the essential amino acids except one, methionine, which can be supplemented through various other sources such as cauliflower or broccoli.
Depending on your weight and activity levels, your daily protein intake requirement varies, and different online calculators will give you different numbers. Click here to figure out how to calculate your protein needs: exercise.about.com or www.healthcalculators.org/calculators/protein.asp?Submit=Close.
No need to worry or count grams of protein, though; consuming a good variety of foods will provide all the protein you need. Here are some of my favorite plant-based protein-rich foods:
1. Beans (10-20 grams of protein per serving) – Beans are a staple in my diet. I always can rely on good ol’ rice and beans as an easy, healthy meal on lazy days. I especially love garbanzo (hummus and falafel count!), mung, and kidney beans. Lentils, another legume, also make simple and delicious Indian dishes and soup. Legumes are high in protein, low in fat and, with the abundant variety, I never grow tired of them.
2. Nuts and seeds (4-8 grams of protein per serving) – I am a sucker for nuts, nut butters, and trail mix. I add almond butter to my morning oatmeal and smoothies, and I can’t live without peanut butter sandwiches. Peanuts (which are technically a legume), almonds, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds are all great sources of protein.
3. Soy products (10-22 grams of protein per serving) – Edamame, tempeh, and tofu are foundational vegan/vegetarian foods. I love stir-fry with tempeh (fermented soybeans) with grains like rice and barley. Four ounces or half a package of tempeh gives you 22 grams of protein. Stir fried tofu with vegetables and rice is also a frequent meal of mine.
4. Milk alternatives (7-9 grams of protein per cup) – Soy and almond milk are common milk alternatives and they provide about the same amount of protein as cow’s milk. Other delicious milk alternatives include hemp, oat, and rice milk, but these choices contain fewer grams of protein per serving.
5. Grains (6-9 grams of protein per serving) – Amaranth and quinoa are versatile grains with higher than average grain protein content. I like to eat quinoa as a side dish, like rice. Amaranth can be cooked and added to various dishes or can be eaten as a cereal. Other whole grains including oats, barley, and brown rice are also protein-rich.
6. Wheat gluten (15-20 grams of protein per serving) – Seitan is a delicious, dense, chewy food made from wheat gluten. A seitan loaf takes about an hour to bake, but it’s worth the wait. The spices and ingredients in seitan recipes can be played with to alter the flavor, and it makes a great mock meat.
As a novice vegetarian, it took me a few months to learn about the various plant-based protein sources available. It’s been a couple years now and I am quite pleased with all my delicious, healthy, protein-rich options; and I am well prepared to enlighten my meat eating friends and family who question my nutrition.
Click here for a list of the essential amino acids and food sources–http://alternativehealthatlanta.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/essential-amino-acids-in-plant-based-foods1.pdf