Protein is essential for good health. It is necessary for good brain function, physical performance, recovery from illness and injury, maintenance of muscle, support of body system functions, healthy hair and skin, and stable blood sugar levels. Animals have traditionally been the primary sources of protein in the American diet. However, a variety of great alternative proteins are readily available for those practicing a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Many meats available in the US today, especially beef, come from animals that have been raised with the use of antibiotics and hormones and fed grains that have been exposed to pesticides and other harmful chemicals. The meat industry, again largely beef, creates substantial environmental damage through the production of methane gas and destruction of land, including public lands where livestock is grazed. There is also a rising concern about poor living conditions and lack of humane treatment of animals raised for food. For many reasons, there is a desire for a sustainable alternative source of protein.
A common challenge for vegetarians is consuming adequate “complete proteins” which are those that contain, in specific ratios, all nine essential amino acids. These are chemical components of protein that our bodies require to function well but that our bodies cannot produce; they must be obtained from foods.
Animal products provide all the essential amino acids, or complete protein. If you do not eat a vegan diet—which is a diet that avoids ALL animal sources of food—eggs and dairy products are options that will provide complete protein. These products, including organic options, are readily available from humanely-raised animals that are fed chemical-free, healthy diets. But there are plenty of plant-based sources of protein as well.
A great tip to keep in mind is that the combination of a grain and a legume provides complete protein. Examples include rice and beans, a peanut butter sandwich and oatmeal cooked in non-GMO soymilk. However, these complementary proteins don’t necessarily have to be eaten together. They can be eaten at different times of day, and amino acids—stored in the liver—will combine to provide complete protein.
Some plants such as quinoa, which is actually a seed, contain complete protein. Hemp and chia seeds are also sometimes considered complete proteins although they technically are a little low in lysine. A varied diet of vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and grains will provide plenty of protein along with an abundance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fiber. Following are some additional plant-based sources that are rich in protein.
- Black Beans
- Green Peas
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Hemp Milk
- Green Beans
- Chick Peas
- Nutritional Yeast
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, we need 0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. So a person weighing 120 pounds would need 48 grams of protein daily (120 x 0.4). It’s especially important to eat protein in the morning to start your day with stable blood sugar levels.
Find some tasty ideas for getting plenty of protein in your vegetarian diet. Check out these awesome recipes based on versatile quinoa or that use healthy hemp seeds. Celebrate cruelty free eating that is good for you and good for our planet!