Almost every vegetarian I’ve met seems to have one dietary issue in common: struggling to get his or her daily recommended serving of protein. Protein for vegetarians isn’t very easy to come by. Most vegetarian dishes, although high in vegetables, low glycemic carbohydrates, and healthy fats, have very little protein in them. Whether it is out of moral concern, religious obligation, or any other reason, not having enough protein in your diet is a health risk. After all, protein is a leading energy source in the body, as well as the nutrient that is responsible for muscular growth and development. Bodybuilders and fitness junkies can’t get enough of this stuff. They’ll consume their protein sources via shakes, eggs, cheese, and most commonly – meat. Animal meat is the most abundant source of human protein on the planet. Simply put, in order to build muscle, you have to eat muscle. So what do you do if you’re a vegetarian and you’re looking to build muscle, or at least maintain an ideal weight? There’s a lot you can do: both in the gym, and in the kitchen. Here are some protein sources for vegetarians that I’m sure you’ve heard of, and others that you might not have considered yet.
A protein source that is found isolated in the soybean plant, soy is ubiquitous in many vegetarian dishes. From creamy white blocks in miso soup, to milk with a slightly different taste to it, soy is an integral protein source for vegetarians. Tofu is a form of soy that is found commonly in Eastern Asian vegetarian dishes. Tofu is alternative protein for vegetarians who are looking to replace chicken, beef, or pork in their dishes. The consistency of this protein-rich soy product is firm yet gelatinous, and contains about two grams of protein to every one gram of fat. Tofu is commonly found in teriyaki dishes, or cubed and fried, and tossed into vegetarian dishes of rice and curry. If you want to incorporate soy as a protein source, but don’t want to eat it, you can drink it! Soy milk is a growing alternative to cow’s milk – both by vegetarians and those who are lactose intolerant. Soy milk is creamy, and has a subtle nuttiness that makes it a delicious alternative protein source to cow’s milk.
Nuts often get a bad wrap from the nutritionally misinformed. Commonly found in trail mix, accompanied with chocolate, or alone, nuts are a snack that don’t quite get the respect they deserve. With only about a gram or two of saturated fat per serving, and with around 6-10 grams of protein, nuts are a very healthful protein source for vegetarians. My favorite nut, and the nut that I will always defend, is the almond. A handful of almonds is an energy rich snack that doubles as a viable source of protein for vegetarians. Almonds are full of unsaturated fats (the good kinds!) and laden with protein and vitamin E. It is no surprise that many vegetarian dishes call for sliced almonds. My advice: go nuts, and eat a handful of almonds each day.
We’ve all heard the schoolyard chant. “Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart…” I think you know the rest. Beans, regardless of their gassy connotation, are an extremely important protein source for omnivorous humans, and as protein for vegetarians. Beans contain an immense amount of soluble fiber and are a good source of iron. In addition, their protein content is pretty impressive. A cup of black or pinto beans spliced into a vegetarian dish will add a staggering 15 grams of protein to your meal.
Found in monster sized tubs, yogurts, cheeses, and even some high-protein oatmeal, whey is a protein source for vegetarians that should not go overlooked. A scoop of whey protein isolate in a water bottle can deliver 25-30 grams of proteins without even touching the 200 calorie mark. Whey protein is also a source of amino acids that are essential in muscle building, growth, and repair. A vegetarian dish that is both delicious and rich in protein sources is eggplant rollatini. Ricotta cheese is actually made from whey protein, and contains about 25-30 grams of protein per serving.
Vegetarian dishes have the potential to contain hefty amounts of belly filling, muscle building protein. If you choose wisely, your protein sources don’t always have to come from meat. If you’re a recently converted vegetarian dining out at your favorite Japanese restaurant, order tofu teriyaki as your vegetarian dish of choice! If you’re bringing in Italian food for lunch on Friday, order a calzone stuffed with ricotta cheese. There are plenty of sources of protein for vegetarians. You just have to think outside the box a bit.