May 1, 2013

Protein & The Vegetarian

One of the most common things I hear about when I tell people that I'm a vegetarian is: PROTEIN. I hear, "How do you get enough protein?" or "I've thought about becoming a vegetarian, but I don't think I'd get enough protein?" Honestly, where does this obsession with protein come from!?
The Protein Myth in America
Protein is IN. America has an obsession with making sure they consume enough protein, but most Americans consume too much protein. The National Center for Health Statistics found that most American men consume about 101.9 grams and American women consume about 70 grams a day. That's almost twice the protein intake recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board.

Consuming too much protein can be bad for your digestive systems. Most Americans sources of protein come from over-consumption of meat products, which can be high in saturated fats. Leading to risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer. Excess protein may also lead to kidney and liver disorders and osteoporosis1.

Kids, Popeye ate Spinach remember!?
How do you get enough protein? 
Despite common belief, protein is not only found in red meat, poultry, fish, and other animal byproducts (milk & eggs). Protein can be found in2:
  • Dry Beans & Peas
  • Tofu
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Grains
  • Vegetables - spinach, greens, corn, broccoli3
  • Fruits - cherries, papaya, banana, avocado, apricots, prunes4
However, it is true that most complete proteins are found in red meat, poultry, fish, and other animal byproducts. Many vegetables and grains contain incomplete proteins, but when eaten together create the same effect as a complete protein. For example, rice and beans both contain different, but complimentary amino acids so that when eaten together (or in the same day) they work to create a complete protein.

According to the CDC, as a woman who is 22 I should consume about 45 grams of protein a day. Obviously, this can vary a bit depending on one's body weight and physical needs. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consuming 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily.

Adding Up the Protein
1/2 Cup Greek Yogurt - 11gm
1 T Sunflower Seeds - 1.5gm
1 Banana - 1.3gm

1 Carrot - 1gm
1 Cup Raw Spinach - 1 gm
2 Piece Multigrain bread - 8gm
2 T Peanut Butter - 8gm

1 Cup Black Bean & Quinoa Chili - 9gm
1 slice Homemade Cornbread - 3gm
1 cup Roasted Sweet Potatoes - 4gm

Total: 47.8gm

Above is a typical day of eating for me and I easily achieved the protein intake that I needed without eating any meat. All of the grams of protein were calculated using Livestrong's MyPlate feature.

No Meat Athlete is a great resource for active, athletic vegetarians. They are a great community of committed vegetarians with lots of great articles about eating a vegetarian diet. I'm kind of obsessed with them. 

Sources (not already linked above)
1: "The Protein Myth: Why You Need Less Protein Than You Think" by Jessica Jones, MS, RD
2: "Protein" by
3: "Vegetables with Protein" by
4: "Protein-Rich Fruits and Vegetables" by

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