Nutrition Series: Vegetarian Protein Sources
Apr 26, 2021
Today let's talk about Vegetarian Protein Sources. Maybe you’re a vegetarian, or thinking about being one, or maybe someone in your life eats this way and you want to learn more.
First, for those that don’t know, let’s define our vocabulary words. I titled this blog “Vegetarian,” which means someone who does not eat meat products. These people generally still eat dairy, fish, and eggs. Another term is “Vegan,” which is a person who eats absolutely no animal products. This includes meat, dairy, fish, eggs, and in some cases, honey. I will let you know what category the foods I suggest belong to.
A term growing in popularity now is “Plant Based”. This usually refers to someone who eats a primarily vegetarian lifestyle, but not strictly. For reference, this is the category I most identify with. I eat plant based, vegetarian protein sources as much as I can, but eat red meat about once a month and chicken or turkey a couple times a week. I also eat dairy and eggs. This makes me a good source to talk about this with you, as I’ve experienced a wide range of vegetarian protein sources, but I don’t rely on them fully, and I also won’t judge you for your choices or the reason you make those choices. I’m just here to give you the information I have so that you can make good choices for yourself and your family.
There are many reasons why people are turning to a vegetarian diet. In addition to the moral, ethical, and environmental reasons, more people are limiting animal products for health reasons: it’s been linked to heart health, healthy blood pressure, fertility, lowering blood sugar, and more. I’m not here to shame you or make you pick a side, I am bringing these reasons up so that you see why I’ll be providing so much general knowledge today: there is no way to cater to everyone. Some of my suggestions may not appeal to you, and that’s okay. For each suggestion, I’ll share with you why you may want to pick that option, and why not.
(The following protein amounts are for an 8 oz portion)
Greek yogurt (23g)
Cottage cheese (23g)
The Good: Dairy contains a lot of protein, and is usually easy to find and affordable.
The Bad: Dairy is considered vegetarian, but not vegan as it still comes from animals, usually cows. You have to be mindful of the fat and carbohydrate content. Full fat dairy can contain a lot of fat with limited sugar, whereas fat free dairy tends to have a higher sugar content. There is also a lot of information out there about the uncleanliness of the dairy industry and their standards, and also the inhumane treatment of dairy cows and other animals. To give you an idea, there is a level of cow pus, from an udder infection called mastitis, allowed into the milk before the milk is considered not okay for human consumption. That level of pus is not zero. Also keep in mind that in order for the cow to produce milk, they must be pregnant, and there must be a calf. If you are drinking the milk, the calf is not. There are non dairy yogurts and milks available (made from soy, coconut, etc) but be wary of their protein content. They tend to be higher in fat and lower in protein.
Meat Substitutes (4 oz)
Seitan (wheat gluten, 24g)
Tempeh (soy, 12g)
Tofu (soy, 6g)
There are many other versions, made of peas, hemp, etc.
The Good: These options have a lot of protein, and are easy to find once you know where they are (they’re with the vegetables!). These items are vegan, completely animal free. Tofu is tasteless, so it takes on whatever flavor you’re cooking with. These substitutes are also generally inexpensive.
The Bad: Their taste and texture is not for everyone. Tempeh has a strong taste. Most options come from soy, which some people are avoiding. If you get into the less common options, your regular grocery store may not have them and you may have to try a store like Sprouts, Whole Foods, or a specialty store. Although with the increase in vegetarians and “plant based” eaters, these foods are becoming more popular at all stores.
Pre Made Options (per serving)
Pre made burgers (made of beans, soy, tofu, etc) 12g
MorningStar, Impossible Burger, Boca, Beyond Meat/Beyond Burger
Protein Powders (20-24g)
Orgain, Vega, On Gold Standard, and many others (becoming more popular)
Usually pea, brown rice, hemp, or chia protein (or whey/casein)
The Good: These options are easy. They’re good for quick dinners (burgers etc) or snacks on the go (protein powders). There are many options: vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, etc.
The Bad: Since these items are all processed, you have to do your research and read the labels. Some contain a lot of additives or sodium, for example. Some of the pre made burgers do not have that high of a protein content and in fact have a lot of carbohydrates. Making your own burgers can alleviate this issue.
Oats (½ cup, 5g)
Nutritional yeast (1T, 5g)
1c Peas - 8g
1c Spinach (cooked) - 5g (other dark leafy greens are similar)
1c Asparagus, Brussel Sprouts, Mushrooms - 4g
1c Lima beans - 11g
1c Pinto Beans - 40g
3 oz peanuts - 21g
3 oz almonds - 18g
The Good: Give you lots of variety in your food. Good for supplementing your protein intake.
The Bad: These foods have a lot of additional macronutrients, which means extra calories. Something to be mindful of if weight loss is a goal for you.
To get 20g of protein, you have to eat:
6 oz tofu
6g fat, 6g carbohydrates
2 scoops Orgain Vegan Simple Protein
3g fat, 10g carbohydrates
¾ pound of peas
3.2 oz (little more than half a cup)
45g fat, 20g carbs
10g fat, 124g carbohydrates
This is a lot of information, and again, I tried to keep this general in the hopes that you would find something valuable in it, since people eat and don’t eat things for all different reasons. Even if you are a vegetarian, or want to start eating more plant based, there are many reasons why you might have arrived at this conclusion, and I hope you found something valuable in this conversation.
Again, I’m offering 25% off our Balanced Habits Nutrition program, which can be specialized to focus on a vegetarian or vegan diet (or any other nutritional preferences). Our 3 month program is a great way to learn more about the foods you should be eating, what components make up a well rounded diet plan. Please reach out if you’d like to schedule a complementary consultation!