One thing that people always mention when they hear the word vegetarian (or vegan!) is the lack of protein. Because meat is the only thing you can get protein from, right? Wrong. So, so wrong.
Admittedly, getting enough protein can be difficult to begin with depending on your diet beforehand. When you’re changing your diet, you’re eating different foods and meals and there’s a balance that you need to find. As a meat-eater, I was reliant on meat as my protein. I didn’t eat beans, lentils or any meat substitutes beside Quorn mince. Cutting that out, I had to rethink my plates, and look at more plant-based options! Once you’ve taught yourself a bit about nutrition though, it’s easy.
What is Protein?
When you eat protein, it gets broken down into amino acids. These are then rearranged into new proteins that your body needs. They are necessary because all our organs, including the skin, muscles, nails and hair are built from protein and our immune and digestive systems also need it to function correctly.
So our body needs 22 different types of amino acids to function properly. Nine of these amino acids must be obtained from food (the essential amino acids) as our body cannot make them, and it’s these that make a protein ‘complete or incomplete’.
‘Complete vs Incomplete Protein Sources’
Complete proteins contain all nine essential amino acids, and enough of them. These proteins are mostly animal-based proteins (meat, fish, dairy products, eggs) and I guess this is why people ‘worry’ so much about a vegetarian’s lack of protein in their diet. However, there are also plant-based complete proteins such as quinoa, buckwheat, hemp/chia seeds and spirulina.
Incomplete proteins don’t contain all nine essential amino acids, or if they do, they don’t contain an adequate amount. These include nuts, seeds, legumes, grains and vegetables.
The thing is, in a normal every day diet no matter if it’s meat-free or not, you will eat a variety of foods each day. (One should hope at least!) With this in mind, the phrase ‘incomplete proteins’ isn’t really something you should worry about. How often do you eat just beans in a day? Or just rice? You’re more likely to eat a meal of beans and rice (and add some vegetables!), and hey look – all 9 essential amino acids are in that meal! What I’m saying is that with a good balanced diet, you’ll most likely get all those essential amino acids, it just might be more spread out compared to eating a chunk of meat and getting it all at once.
Plant-based Protein Sources
So, after all this information, let’s look at some protein sources eh?
|Soy protein||Brown Rice||Nut Butters||Pumpkin Seeds||Black beans||Peas|
|—||Oats||Pine nuts||Hemp Seeds||Kidney Beans||Kale|
|—||Seitan||Almonds||Poppy Seeds||Every other bean||Sweet Potato|
Myco-protein is stuff like Quorn – their fillets, burgers, sausages and whatever else. Soy protein tends to be what most supermarket own brands have in their ‘meat-free’ selection. I haven’t tried tofu or tempeh yet, but I hope to soon. I’m waiting to go to a restaurant where it’s available, because I don’t want to do a bad job cooking it for the first time and then being put off for life…
These are just a small selection of what foods are available with good amounts of protein in them. With a range of these in your diet, you won’t need to worry about protein. It all adds up. I tend to eat a mixture of myco-protein, soy protein and beans throughout the week as my main plant-based sources, as well as eggs. I haven’t included animal-based foods in the table above such as eggs, cheese, milk and yoghurt but they are also great sources of protein.
I think too many people get hung up on protein. Yes we all need it, as I mentioned for the reasons above, but it’s really not that difficult to get enough if you’re eating a good, balanced diet. Most foods have protein in them anyway, I mean, even blackberries, strawberries and raspberries do. It may be a very small amount, but you see what I’m getting at right?
This post has been helpful for me to get things noted down, and to do more research on it, so I hope it’s been helpful for you too! As always, if you think something is incorrect or you have something to add, I’d love to hear it! I’m still learning! Wouldn’t it be great to actually do a nutrition course? I’d find it so interesting.