Let's Talk About Vegetarian Protein

Are there really any vegetarian protein sources that are also gluten free?

Every vegetarian or vegan I know has faced the 'can-of-worms' question from friends, family and strangers alike: but how do you get your protein? :-)

Unfortunately, some people do ask that question with a bit of a condescending attitude, so I can understand why patience can wear thin.

My friend James was one of the first vegetarians I'd ever really been close to. I remember asking him so many perplexed questions that, thinking back, I can't believe how patient he was.

You really mean that you don't eat meat at all? why don't you eat meat? Not even a little?

And yes, the mother of them all, how he got his protein.

Then years later, it was my turn in the hot seat :)

At first I used to get a bit defensive about the protein question. Then I realized I was probably defensive because I hadn't done enough research on vegetarian protein sources.

Arming Yourself

You want to arm yourself with information about how vegetarians and vegans get their protein. That way next time your well-meaning relative asks you in a disapproving tone about your diet, you have your facts right on hand.

After all, most people really truly aren't informed. They know what the government agency told them that they should eat. And that's that!

How much protein is anyone supposed to be eating anyway?

To begin with, when someone asks me how I get my protein as a vegetarian, I like to play with them a little and ask them how much protein they think I need :)

Guess what?

Most people have no idea. They just know meat has protein and that's the end of that.

But that's an important first step. How much protein does your body actually need?

Can of Worms

Talk about a can of worms.

If you hang around "nutrition circles", you know the debate about how much protein we need is as controversial as whether or not soy is good or bad for you.

Well, maybe not that bad but close.

Some nutritionists and personal trainers talk about certain number of grams per pound of body weight, which is great, but I like to keep things simple.

My personal trainer, Paul, who is actually a meat eater, but also works with many vegetarian clients recommends that an average person should aim to eat 30% of their daily food as protein.


By average person I mean you're not weight training or a hardcore athlete, a child, on a restrictive medical diet, etc.

Protein, carbohydrates and fats are known as macro-nutrients. These are the nutrients we need in large quantities for basic survival.

The other parts are recommended as 40% carbs and 30% healthy fats.

This is a fairly typical recommendation by many personal trainers working with regular clients.

Having the percentages in mind as you plan your meals is key.

One of the main mistakes I observe with some vegetarians is that they really don't seem to realize that most vegetables and legumes contain a much higher percentage of carbohydrates.

So if you ask them about their vegan or vegetarian protein sources, you're likely to hear: I eat a lot of beans and legumes.

And while it's true that beans and legumes contain relatively high amounts of protein compared to other vegetarian foods, they also are pretty high in carbohydrates.

Which might help explain why many vegetarians still struggle with weight loss.

Another area of misinformation is with nuts. Many vegans and vegetarians turn to various nuts for their protein needs, yet what is the one thing that nuts are known to be loaded with?

That's right. Fats.

And while many of these fats may be healthy, if they're excess they'll have to be stored somewhere. And most of us don't want their storage place to be in our bellies and hips, right?

Are you feeling a little frustrated or confused?

Don't be.

All you have to do is become just a little conscious when you look at the food on your plate, and forget about the idea of a diet food pyramid. This is a new way of thinking about food.

So, what are some good vegetarian protein sources?

To cut the long story short, here is a list protein sources for both vegetarians and vegans.

Related reading:

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