There is a popular misconception that meat is the only real source of protein, and thus that a vegetarian diet is inherently unhealthy due to a lack of protein. It is impossible to overstate how untrue this is.
First of all, the Recommended Daily Allowance of protein is not as high as one might think, and many people – vegetarian or not – eat more protein than their bodies actually need. The approximate RDA of protein is only 47 grams for women and 54 grams for men.
Secondly, there are many sources of vegetarian protein. The only problem is that most* vegetable sources of protein are incomplete, so it was once believed that you needed to eat a combination of foods to get the complete protein. But you don’t necessarily need to eat them at the same time; as long as you eat a variety of vegetarian proteins, your body will be able to get everything it needs.
Vegan sources of protein
- Cereals and grains – buckwheat*, rice, rye, spelt, teff…
- Leafy green vegetables, including spinach
- Legumes – beans, chickpeas, edamame, green peas, lentils, peanuts
- Nutritional yeast*
- Nuts – almonds, walnuts, cashews…
- Seaweed – spirulina*, kelp …
- Seeds – chia,* hemp*, sesame, sunflower…
- Soy* products – tofu, tempeh, soy milk…
- Vegetables – Brussel sprouts, potatoes, yuca
Ovo-lacto sources of protein
* indicates a complete protein
As long as vegetarians (and everyone else, for that matter) eat a wide variety of foods, they will easily manage to eat enough protein – not to mention other nutrients.
If you want to be absolutely certain that you are getting enough protein, you should eat food combinations which form a complete protein, such as:
- Legumes + seeds
- Legumes + nuts
- Legumes + grains
Chances are you already eat complete proteins without even trying. Here are some tasty and healthy complete protein combinations:
- Beans on toast
- Corn and beans
- Hummus and pita bread
- Nut butter on whole grain bread
- Pasta with beans
- Rice and beans, peas, or lentils
- Split pea soup with whole grain or seeded crackers or bread
- Tortillas with refried beans
- Veggie burgers on bread
Again, these combinations don’t necessarily have to be eaten at the same time; you can eat one several hours after the other and still benefit from the complete protein.
As you can see, there are plenty of vegetarian sources of protein, so the next time some "carnivore" 😉 says your diet is unhealthy, you’ll know how to respond. (Also see Dealing with meat eaters.)
Bon appétit !