By Jacqueline L. Scheier, D.O.
People choose to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet for a variety of reasons. Maybe it’s to improve your health or lower your impact on the environment. Or maybe looking into the eyes of your favorite family pet made you rethink the ethical implications of eating meat. Whatever sparked your decision to make a change, you’re now faced with the somewhat challenging task of ensuring you eat a balanced diet with the right amount of macronutrients – fat, carbohydrates, and protein – to keep your body healthy.
Some vegetarians struggle to eat enough protein. The USDA recommends that women should consume 46 grams of protein and men should consume 56 grams of protein every day. If you exercise more than 30 minutes per day, you may even need a little more. This is equivalent to about two small chicken breasts or two lean hamburger patties.
Fortunately for vegetarians and vegans, protein is found in ready supply in the plants, grains and nuts all around us. You just have to plan your daily diet correctly and branch out from that piece of bread and bowl of pasta with vegetarian spaghetti sauce.
The following foods will help keep you feeling full and get you on your way to meeting your daily protein requirements:
Protein: 2.6 grams per cup or 17 grams per bunch
In addition to protein, broccoli provides a hefty dose of other nutrients including vitamin C, vitamin K and some of the B vitamins – all important parts of a healthy diet. Broccoli’s strong flavor isn’t for everyone, but there are ways to make it appealing to even the pickiest eaters. Try roasting it or add a little cheese (if you’re not a vegan) and breadcrumbs to create tasty broccoli bites.
Protein: 6 grams per ounce, 16 grams per cup
Chickpeas (or garbanzo beans) are a great complement to many dishes or as a side dish on their own. You can also try them in another well-known form: hummus. One serving provides almost 20 percent of your daily recommended amount of protein. You’ll also get a good amount of fiber, which is important for healthy digestion; and folate, which helps to repair your DNA and keep your cells healthy.
Protein: 3 grams per ounce, 8 grams per cup
Quinoa is a grain grown for its edible seeds, which can be cooked and used much like rice. It also provides fiber, B vitamins, and healthy fats. It comes in a variety of colors, making it a great way to brighten up a dish at your next family dinner.
Protein: 2 grams per tablespoon, 38 grams per dry cup
Chia seeds are not just for growing Chia Pets anymore. They’re a great source of protein and fiber. They’re known to expand when wet, which helps to keep you full and may even help with weight loss. Chia seeds can be prepared in a variety of ways or added straight from the package to your morning smoothie.
Protein: 5 grams per ounce, 30 grams per cup
Tempeh is a soy product made by fermenting soybeans until they turn into a cake-like form. It has a very mild flavor – which makes it perfect for mixing in your own flavors from your favorite recipe. It has a firm texture, not unlike meat, so you’ll find it used frequently as a meat substitute in vegetarian dishes.
Many people associate vegetarian and vegan diets with sacrifice and denial. However, with a little creativity in the foods you select and the way you prepare them, you can build a nutritious and delicious diet that meets all of your dietary needs.
About the Author
Specializing in family medicine, Dr. Scheier strives to work with patients in obtaining their short-term and long-term health goals. She works to gain their trust through open and honest conversation in assisting them to achieve these goals. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Scheier, please call 484-446-3660.