The Myth That Vegetarians Don’t Get Enough Protein
If you believe everything you hear, you couldn’t help but think that poor vegetarians are protein starved to the point that their bodies are breaking down and they can barely function. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly is the fact that we, as a society, consume far more protein than we generally require on a daily basis. Secondly is the fact that protein supplements are booming right now and it helps if you can tap into the vegetarian market. However, do the claims have any basis in fact? Are vegetarians getting enough protein?
To start off, you have to ask yourself what is enough protein? Most nutritionists and doctors would agree that the daily recommended intake of 0.36 grams per pound is an appropriate guideline to follow, so 200 pounds equates to 72 grams. As you can see, it is not nearly as much as the general hype would have you believe. Even so, meats and fish are the most common sources of protein in an average diet, so where are vegetarians getting their protein from?
The list is much longer than you might think. Grains and legumes are popular, as are all manner of nuts and beans. Lentils, chickpeas and tofu are loaded full of protein, while quinoa and hemp are also popular. Green vegetables can also be a good source, with green peas being particularly popular. The reality is that much of what makes up a vegetarian’s diet has plenty of protein in it, and the loss of meat based protein is made up for by natural substitutes.
For some vegetarians who are on a limited strict diet, it is possible that they may be running a protein deficiency, but those people are the minority rather than the majority. To go around claiming that every vegetarian doesn’t get enough protein simply isn’t true. Most do get it, they just get it elsewhere.
If you fear you aren’t getting enough protein, there are generally some simple changes you can make to your diet to rectify the balance. A protein supplement may be in order, but before going down that route, it is always worthwhile calculating exactly how much protein you are consuming and how much you should be consuming. Often, even for those who are not consuming a suitable amount of protein, the difference is minor enough that it can be rectified through diet. Supplements have a place, but they don’t need to be the first choice.
5 Vegan Sources of Complete Protein
One concern for new vegans and some vegetarian is whether they can get enough complete protein from eating just plant-source foods. And the answer is “Yes”. While most complete food sources do come from animals, there are several that come from plants. In this article, we cover five of the most popular.
Looking like couscous, it makes a great substitute for rice either as a side dish or when added to a recipe. Along with being a good source of complete protein and fiber, it also contains iron, magnesium and manganese. One cup has 8 grams of protein.
Not a member of the wheat family at all, its gluten-free flour is commonly used to make waffles or pancakes, in bread or baked goods. Others cook the hulled kernels into a hot cereal similar to oatmeal. Studies have shown that buckwheat has many health benefits including lowering cholesterol, improving circulation and stabilizing glucose levels. One cup cooked has 6 grams of protein.
At 10 to 15 grams per ½ cup serving, depending on the soy product, it is one of the most complete protein dense plant foods. Tempeh, natto, soybeans and tofu make for a good variety of soy products. One note on tofu protein content – the firmer the tofu, the higher the protein amount.
Rice and Beans
Each by themselves is not a complete protein. While beans are low in the essential amino acid methionine and high in lysine, rice is just the opposite, so serving them together makes a complete protein. Is that why rice and bean dishes are so popular? Most likely not – they just naturally go good together, but in doing so create a complete protein. One cup combined has about 7 grams of protein.
Hummus and Pita
This is another combination that go good together, but each by itself is not a complete protein. Wheat protein in pitas is very similar in composition to rice flour in that is it low in lysine. However, chickpeas in hummus has plenty of lysine to make up the difference, so when eaten together, form a complete protein. One whole-wheat pita with 2 tablespoons of hummus supplies 7 grams of protein.
As a vegan, it is not as hard as many non-vegans would lead you to believe to get enough complete protein in your diet to maintain good health. These are just five of the many sources available. And as shown, even non-complete sources can be made complete when paired with a plant-based source having a complementing amino acid profile to make the combination complete.
Do You Get Protein From Plant Milks?
For the 30 to 50 million Americans that are lactose intolerant, plant milks can be a welcome relief to the bloating, gas and even diarrhea associated with dairy milk. And that doesn’t even consider the millions of people in other countries that can’t digest lactose from dairy products either. But many people depend on milk as part of their recommended daily allowance of protein. If they switch to a plant-based milk, will they get the same amount of protein as dairy milk?
In some cases, yes depending on the type of milk. Milk made from soy or hemp are two great dairy replacement products to use if getting enough protein is a concern. Why? Because both plant sources are complete proteins, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids – something many other plant-type milks don’t.
As far as which plant milk has the most protein, EdenSoy® Organic Unsweetened wins the honors with 12 grams per one cup serving. Dairy milk has generally around 8 grams per serving. Most soy milks have between 4 to 10 grams of protein per serving making protein replacement simple.
By comparison, most hemp milks, while complete proteins, only contain 2 – 4 protein grams per serving. Other plant milks have between 1 and 2 grams per serving.
Most dairy milks are fortified with nutrients such as vitamins A and D, calcium and iron besides containing protein. Some people are concerned they will not get these same nutrients if they switch to a plant milk. However, the truth is most non-dairy milks are fortified too, with calcium, vitamin D, iron and B12 as well as other important nutrients. Read the nutritional label to see how much of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) in in a specific product.
For people that like to cook and bake, dairy milk can be replaced with plant milk on a one-to-one basis. Almond, hemp, soy, coconut and rice milk easily replace dairy milk in baked good recipes.
Organic and Natural
If organic is a concern, some plant milks fill the bill. EdenSoy®, SoyDream® and WestSoy® are three such products. While other brands may not be organic, some do pledge to use non-genetically modified plants in the making of their milks.
Some companies add fats and sweeteners to their milk to improve the taste. Others do not. Be sure to read the nutritional information either on the packaging or online to see what ingredients are contained in a product.
Finally, unlike dairy milk, plant milks come in both refrigerated and aseptic, the later meaning they don’t require refrigeration until opened. This makes it easy to stock up when on sale and store in a pantry until opened.
With so many varieties of plant milks available, the hardest part will be deciding which one you like the best. Keep in mind that regardless of the one you choose, all are fortified just like dairy milk and vary in protein amount to a certain degree depending on the plant milk selected – soy being the highest and matching (or in some cases exceeding) dairy milk.
How to Make Protein Pancakes
There are many ways to get extra protein in your diet nowadays. One breakfast-friendly way is to make protein pancakes. They are super-easy to make and can be varied in so many flavorful ways. Let’s start with the basic protein pancake.
Basic Protein Pancake Recipe
While there are several varieties of protein pancakes, this recipe is a good starting point:
- ¼ cup raw oats
- ¼ cup cottage cheese
- ½ scoop vanilla protein powder
- ½ cup of egg whites
Blend all of the ingredients until they form a batter.
Once the griddle is hot, pour batter onto the griddle to form two larger or three smaller cakes depending on the size of the griddle.
Flip the pancakes once the edges start to brown.
Top with a dollop of natural peanut butter and a few sliced almonds. Nutritionally, the pancakes come in at 269 calories, 3 grams of fat, 23 grams of carbs and 35 grams of protein.
Kicking It Up a Level
From the basic protein pancake recipe, it is fun to experiment with other ingredients and toppings. For example, add blueberries or a mashed banana to the basic recipe. For an explosion of taste, add in some flaked coconut or cinnamon.
Toppings can add so much to the basic pancake recipe. Fruits, like sliced bananas, raspberries or blueberries not only add flavor, but also round out the presentation. Honey, maple syrup and any of the nut butters completes the protein offering.
The Protein Advantage
If you are trying to lose weight, protein pancakes in the morning is a great way to start your day. Protein not only fills you up, but keeps you feeling fuller longer as it takes longer to digest. Because protein takes longer to digest, it burns up more calories in the process than other easier-to-digest macronutrients, such as fat and carbohydrate. It is called the thermic effect and can burn as much as 30% of the protein calories ingested just in digesting it.
Not only does protein first thing in the morning keep your calorie down by not feeling hungry mid-morning, it kicks your metabolism into high gear and you end up burning more calories than if you would not have eaten protein. So between feeling fuller longer, the thermic effect and revving up your metabolism, protein helps you lose weight. Try a short stack of protein pancakes tomorrow morning and start your day right.