Most people usually wonder when they hear someone’s a vegetarian: How do you get enough protein? If they know that animal products also contribute B-12, omegas, iron, among other nutrients, they really start to worry about vegetarians’ health. However, various government and live human proof demonstrate it’s possible to thrive on a vegetarian diet.
Americans consume at least 142% the recommended daily amount of protein; as this study published in The American Society for Clinical Nutrition demonstrated. In various studies, eating red meat has been linked to heart diseases and cancer. Aside from the negativity surrounding meat production, you may wish to reduce your meat consumption for moral or health reasons. Below you can find typical guides to protein sources.
The recommended daily average is around .8-1 g/kg body weight. This means if you weigh 150 pounds, or 68kg, your recommended average would be 55g of protein per day.
1 cup of milk… a 3-ounce piece of meat…1 cup of dry beans…an 8-ounce container of yogurt…Added together, just these four sources would meet the protein needs of an adult male (56 grams). This doesn’t count all the other foods that add smaller amounts of protein to his diet.
-Choose My Plate.gov, How much Protein do I need?
You can find protein from beans and legumes, peanut butter, rice and beans, whole wheat bread and many other vegetable products. All 9 essential aminoacids are present in animal protein, in contrast to plant proteins which mostly contain some of the 9 aminoacids. Vegetarian diets usually recommend combining plant foods in order to get all 9 aminoacids, although it’s debated whether this is really necessary. Bodybuilders are usually the ones that guide themselves by this principle because lacking an aminoacid is said to inhibit metabolism.
Traditional complete protein sources include:
Peanut Butter on Whole Wheat Bread
Potato with Broccoli and Cheese
Whole Wheat Pasta Alfredo With Vegetables
Other Nutritional Needs
Depending on the type, up to 64% of vegetarians and 92% of vegans can suffer from B12 deficiency. This is due to the fact that B12 is mostly found in animal foods. However, up to 40% of non-vegetarians suffer from b12 deficiency, so this is a general population problem. So much so, that mandatory fortification of food with B12 has been considered. In my research I’ve found that it’s very difficult to obtain B12 from plant based sources, so much so that an article in VeganHealth.org goes into detail about it. Where do vegetarians get their B12 then? Those who consume dairy products can get it from Milk, Eggs and Cheese where B12 is found. Vegans however, must take it from supplements or B12 enriched foods. Supplements are typically recommended for everyone, meat eater or not, so that attacks this problem.
Another common problem vegetarians and vegans may face is an iron deficiency because the most absorb-able source of iron is found in animal sources. It’s almost recommended that vegans consume 1.8 times the recommended amount of Iron to compensate for this. Good plant sources of Iron include beans such as chickpeas, potatoes, broccoli, green peppers, pasta rice, etc. Dried beans and dark green leafy vegetables are especially good sources of iron, even better on a per calorie basis than meat. The Vegetarian Resource Group has a great article on vegetarian sources of Iron.
Calcium is found in dark green vegetables, soy and fruits. Vegetarians and vegas can have lower levels of calcium than omnivores. An article in ChrisKesser.com titled Why you Should Think Twice about Vegetarian and Vegan Diets arguments that it takes multiple servings of plant based calcium to obtain the amount of absorbable calcium in a glass of milk. However, soy milk and juices contain very high levels of absorbable calcium. And many calcium enriched foods are part of vegan diets. The vegetarian Resource Group has an article on Calcium in the vegan diet and recommends eating calcium rich foods or taking supplements if necessary.
Want to Eat Less Meat?
If you’d like to reduce your meat consumption but aren’t ready for a full transition yet, you might try skipping a meat meal once a week. A great movement, Meatless Monday provides recipes, and information and also the impact of your decision and its benefits.
If you’re interested in starting out as a vegetarian, you can try the following resources:
You can also try PETA.org and A begginner’s guide to vegetarianism.