I can’t begin to tell you how often I get that question. It doesn’t bother me at all, but if I get the first question, it is almost guaranteed that the second one will be the follow-up. After my husband was asked the same questions this weekend he urged me to blog about it. (Rich is a new vegetarian, something he wants to try for a full year (he’s four months in!) and then see how he feels.)
So how do vegetarians get protein? First, I think we should talk about how much protein we need. According to Dr. T. Colin Campbell and his book, “The China Study”, the optimal amount of protein for us to consume is about 10% of our daily calories. This is equivalent to about 50-60 grams of protein per day depending on body weight. The average American consumes about 15% -16%, or 70-100 grams of protein per day. The latest research suggests the promotion of cancer cells at levels above 10% of animal protein.
There is a great chapter at the beginning of the China Study that discusses the cultural bias that has become entrenched in our minds regarding protein. It started hundreds of years ago when meat was expensive and plants were cheap. The wealthy could afford meat, the poor could afford plants and beans. Of course, as is true to this day, if the wealthy could afford a little meat, than being able to afford a LOT of meat was even better. Back then they figured you just can’t have too much of a good thing. Pick up the book and read chapter 2 if you are interested in learning more on this…I could go on and on and I know you would rather I get down to the nitty gritty.
Which has more protein, broccoli or steak? Crazy question, I know. Even crazier answer: broccoli! Steak has 6.4 grams of protein per 100 calories and broccoli has 11.1. Fix a big bowl of greens, throw on a half cup of chickpeas, some cherry tomatoes, and a handful of walnuts and you have yourself a yummy, colorful, healthfest. It adds up to about 14 grams of protein broken down like this: 4 c of spinach and romaine, 3 g protein, 1/2 cup chickpeas, 6 g protein, 1 cup cherry tomatoes, 1 g protein, 10 walnuts, 4 grams protein. Even better, it is also loaded with fiber, vitamins, and anti-oxidants. Can’t say that about a slab of meat 🙂
So, in my family, this is how we get our protein. Beans a few times a week..1 cup of black beans has 14 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber! Quinoa is a great addition to any meal and it brings 9 grams of protein per cup. We eat a little tofu, maybe twice a month. (We recently discovered the savory seasoned tofu at Trader Joes and it was such a hit that we might be having it a bit more often!) Nearly all veggies, beans, grains, seeds, and nuts have protein so eating a variety of these whole foods daily makes it easy to get adequate protein.
I hope I’ve helped to answer the protein question but please feel free to shout out if there is something I missed. I have read and learned so much about this subject in the past year. I love to talk about it and help anyone who asks, but I never want to feel like I am pushing vegetables or a vegetarian lifestyle on anyone. Whatever works for you!
Peace and greens,