Growing up in my family, vegetarianism was not an option. I don’t even think it was a real word in our household until I got older and started appreciating vegetables more.
Meals then consisted of meat and potatoes. Simple. Easy. Protein. Starch. Done.
The good news is that times do change and as alien the prospect of non-meat eaters was for my family back then, it’s become as widespread as health food stores and farmer’s markets today.
So how do you explain to those meat and potato eaters what being a vegetarian is like?
Pretty simple. They just don’t eat meat.
The question that follows is pretty easy to guess.
If they don’t eat meat, then how do they get any protein?
It’s old school meating, ahem meeting, new school.
So what are vegetarian sources of protein? And why would it benefit all of us- vegetarians and meat eaters alike- to not always rely on animal meat sources of protein?
Let’s start with a list of some, but not all, vegetarian protein sources:
- Nuts and seeds
- Soy products, such as soybeans, tofu, soy milk, or tempeh
- Beans and legumes
- Whole grains, such as wheat, oats, or rice
- If eaten, dairy products, such as eggs, milk or cheese
The good news is that most foods do contain some amount of protein, however there are some foods that are protein containing all-stars while others barely get off the bench.
Compared to beans or legumes, fruit for the most part is a small time contributor for quality or quantity of protein.
However take those same beans or legumes and compare then to animal sources of protein and we’re still not on a level playing field.
To keep things simple, think of protein as being an essential building block for your body. Without it, we cannot function at an optimal level. With it, all systems are a go.
However that protein building block is also made up of smaller building blocks. These smaller building blocks are called amino acids.
Again to function optimally, our body needs protein. But for that protein to function optimally, it needs all of its essential amino acids.
Animal meat proteins contain all necessary amino acids. Unfortunately the vegetarian sources of protein are not as lucky.
This is the main concern with vegetarians when it comes to getting adequate protein into their diets.
The way to get around this is to combine vegetarian protein sources.
Think rice and beans.
This staple of many Hispanic cultures combines the proteins of the rice with the proteins of the beans perfectly to give your body all of the amino acids it needs to function at its optimal level.
Protein combining or Complementary proteins ends up being the magical tool that ensures that vegetarians get all of the necessary amino acids in their diets.
To do this effectively, you can either do a quick search and find out what amino acids are missing in each vegetarian protein source OR even more simply, just eat a variety of vegetarian protein sources throughout the day.
When combining proteins, you don’t need to make sure that it all happens at one meal. That’s the cool part. Our bodies are so advanced that as long as you are getting the complementary protein sources at some point within the same day, you will still get the benefit of having a complete protein.
Why would we all benefit from eating non-animal protein to some extent, regardless of whether we eat animal meat or not?
Our bodies are made to eat and process a wide variety of foods. By eating a wide variety, we are guaranteeing that we are getting all of the nutrients we can possibly get and need in order for our body to function at its highest level.
Not only do we ensure that we get enough protein, but also carbohydrates and fats. Even better, adding in some vegetarian proteins helps us make sure that we’re also getting enough fiber in our diets.
It’s a win-win situation.