How do vegetarians get protein?

Hello everybody! Welcome back to my blog. The purpose of this blog is to help people find their way to a healthier lifestyle. I mostly talk about exercise and its science, which is my area of expertise, but I also talk about nutrition, sleeping habits and many other subjects related to wellbeing and healthy lifestyle.

If you follow me from the beginning, you know already that I am a “flexitarian”. In one of my most popular posts “Vegetarianism and a recipe” I tell you my story. Check it out if you missed it!

Today I want to focus on a question I have been asked every time I say that I don’t generally eat meat: where do I get my protein from?

Choosing to stop eating meat has a lot of stigma around it. People rarely understand you, they question if your diet is healthy and complete, sometimes they will even laugh about it. This is just a lack of information and culture, even if your keto diet friend gives you a speech about how when we were back in the caves we used to hunt and eat the animals. We are not living in caves anymore everybody!

There are many studies that have demonstrated the benefit of a plant based diet, and the reduction of meat. But today I am not talking about the benefits of a plant based diet or the composition of the meat, today I want to tell you where I get my protein from.

My husband and I share this lifestyle. Our meals contain lots of vegetables and fruit, nuts, whole grains, beans, but we also eat eggs and dairy products such as milk and yogurt, and twice a week we eat fish. But even if we decided to stop eating any product that comes from the animal kingdom, the lack of protein would be the least of our worries. 

  1. Beans

Beans have a protein content of 21 g per 100 g. This is more than 20% of protein. Several studies have revealed that the consumption of beans is linked with a decrease of LDL cholesterol, it helps controlling the level of sugar in blood and reduces blood pressure. They are a good source of fibre, iron, folate (also known as Vitamin B9), phosphorus, potassium, manganese as well as carbohydrates.

You can add beans to nearly any savoury dish: salads, pasta, vegetarian tacos, toasts, or you can choose to cook them Spanish style, like the classic dish “Fabada Asturiana”. Although this dish generally contains meat, there are amazing vegan and vegetarian variations.

  1. Lentils

Lentils contain 9 g of protein per 100 g, considerably less than beans. With a single cup of 250 ml, lentils will give you around 50% of the fibre you need on a day. They are rich on folate, manganese and the very important mineral iron, which is essential to make haemoglobin and myoglobin, both important proteins that carry oxygen from the lungs to everywhere else in the body and to provide oxygen to the muscles respectively. We need iron for other body functions, like the formation of certain hormones.

There are many dishes you can make using lentils, or simply add them to other dishes. A dish that I personally love is rice with lentils. There is no need to mix rice and lentils to make them “complete”, by the way. This myth was debunked a long time ago, but it’s still a delicious dish. You can also cook another famous Spanish dish, “Lentejas”. Like “Cocido Madrileño”, “Lentejas” are generally cooked with meat, but you can find amazing vegetarian and vegan versions.

  1. Quinoa

Quinoa is a grain with one of the highest percentages of protein. It contains around 16 g of protein per 100 g. Rice contains less than half (around 7 g per 100 g), so quinoa would be a good substitute if what you want is a higher content of protein. All three colours have pretty much the same nutritional components, but the flavours and textures differ, being the white quinoa the least bitter and the red and white is chewier, which make them a good component for salads and other cold dishes.

Quinoa is also a good source of fibre, iron, manganese, magnesium and phosphorus as well as carbohydrates.

  1. Oats

Oats contain around 17 g of protein per 100 g. Good news for the porridge lovers! This aliment also contains minerals such us zinc, phosphorous and magnesium and the previously mentioned folate or vitamin B9. It’s a very healthy option for a snack, you can add some fruit and nuts or you can use it to bake instead of using flour. It’s also a potential ingredient for vegetarian burger patties or to fry other food.

  1. Nuts

Depending on the type of nut you’ll get more or less proportion of protein, but on average, per 100 g of nuts you’ll get around 20 g of protein. Apart from a resource of protein, nuts are also rich in healthy fatty acids. Be careful though. The amount of nuts we can eat per day varies from person to person, but too much might result in weight gain. The recommendation of daily intake of nuts is a handful. In my post “pros and cons of the Harvard Plate” I tell you a bit about this amazing protein and fat resource!

Nuts are also full of minerals and vitamins, like iron and calcium and vitamins E and some from the B complex.

  1. Peanut butter.

Peanut butter is just that, peanuts. At least that’s what it should be, check the label just in case! The reason why it is oily is because when the peanut is grounded, the natural oil is released. Peanuts have a proportion of 26 g of protein per 100 g.

As well as other type of nut butters, peanut butter is an alternative for other animal butters or plant-based butter with a high amount of salt and sugar. It’s a versatile ingredient, adding flavour and texture to both savoury and sweet dishes. I personally love having my peanut butter with apple or other fruits. It makes a very healthy snack.

  1. Chickpeas

Containing around 20 g of protein per 100 g, chickpeas are one of the main ingredients of the Mediterranean diet. It’s the dominant ingredient of Hummus, the well known Middle Eastern dip. It’s also known by its Spanish name, garbanzo. Like other beans, chickpeas are high in fibre, folate, as well as iron, potassium and other minerals.

Make a homemade Hummus, which is one of the simplest recipes, and add other ingredients like eggplant to make it even more nutritional, chuck them in your salads or curries or cook it Spanish style. The Spanish “Cocido Madrileño” is a delicious dish of my country’s cuisine, and even though it’s normally cooked with meat, the vegetarian versions are not far behind.

  1. Protein-rich fruit and vegetables.

Spinach, green peas, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, potatoes are some examples of protein-rich vegetables. Although the content of protein is obviously lower than the foods mentioned before, they still have protein that adds up to the rest of the options. For example, green peas contain 5 g of protein per 100 g and spinach 3 g per 100 g.

The reasons why we should include vegetables and fruits in our diet is not based on its protein content, but all the health benefits as well as contributing with essential vitamins, minerals and other beneficial plant compounds, such us the chlorophyll. This compound is present in green vegetables.

Some examples of protein rich fruits are bananas, nectarines and blackberries, among other. Bananas and nectarines contain slightly above 1 g of protein per 100 g, whereas blackberries go up to 1.5 g of protein per 100 g. Remember that fruit contains a high proportion of water and vitamins, as well as essential minerals and fibre.

  1. Mushrooms

Mushrooms contain more than 3 g of protein per 100 g. They have certain antioxidants like selenium and vitamin C, which makes them a potential cancer preventer. The consumption of these antioxidants may prevent lung, prostate, breast, and other types of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Alongside antioxidants, mushrooms are rich in vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5 and B9, as well as many essential minerals, such as iron, copper and potassium.

Although mushroom flavour is not for everyone, they make healthy and delicious dishes, like curries, sauces or just cooked by themselves.

As you can see, all these meals contain enough protein, and there are lots of delicious recipes you can make from them. I will share one with you at the end of this post!

More protein resources exist than the ones mentioned in this post, I have mentioned just the ones I consume on a daily basis. But if you want to expand your repertoire, chia seed, soy milk, amaranth, tofu, seitan, spelt, nutritional yeast, tempeh and fortified foods are other alternatives for those who want to explore the plant-based protein world.

The impact of a plant-based diet doesn’t end with our health, it goes beyond. 70% of the world water consumption goes to cattle raising. Because yes, dear keto diet friend, we used to hunt, but wild animals. Nowadays, the meat we eat, the cheap meat we can get in the supermarket, comes from industrial farms.

There is a big difference between a steak from a wild animal or farm animal that has been raised in an open non-stressful environment than a steak from one of these industrial farm animals. The food they eat, the conditions they live in, the hormones they secrete are very different. This not only affects the quality of life of these animals, but it also affects the flavour and quality of their meat. But this is a subject for another post.

Now, I am going to leave you with my simple recipe for an “Aussie brekkie”. I am sure you can find this type of breakfast in many other countries, but out of the almost 20 countries I’ve been before, Australia is the first one I have seen this. I hope you enjoy it!

Ingredients for two people:

  • 2-4 eggs (if you’re vegan, find another ingredient to supply, such us mushrooms or tofu): 13 g of protein per 100 g
  • 200 g of beans: 21 g of protein per 100 g
  • 4 slices of whole-grain bread: 13 g of protein per 100 g
  • 1-2 tomatoes: 0.9 g of protein per 100 g
  • 1 avocado: 2 g of protein per 100 g
  • Olive oil extra virgin (to cook the eggs)
  • Nectarines: 1.1 g of protein per 100 g
  1. Put the slices of whole grain bread in the toaster if you want them toasted.
  2. Chop the fruits: tomatoes, avocados (yes, both are fruits) and nectarine. Put aside.
  3. Cook the beans until tender.
  4. Cook the eggs or other protein (if needed).
  5. Place everything on a big plate and eat away.

That’s it for today! I really hope that this opened your eyes a bit about the plant-based protein. If you like what I do and you want to support this project, follow me on Instagram and Facebook, like the post and comment! Thank you!

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