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Flirting with vegetarianism?

We live in a very vegetarian friendly world.  But getting enough protein is often still a small problem vegetarians must address.  Particularly those who are new vegetarians, being aware of the need for protein and where it exists ( or doesn't) in your diet is critical to a healthy lifestyle.  This is, by far, the biggest challenge vegans and vegetarians face.  It is so common in restaurants that the vegetarian option is pasta, salad, or a grilled veggie sandwich.  Lovely-yes, protein rich - no.  So make sure you have protein in one of your meals each day.  You don't need a lot (.8 grams of protein per every kilogram of body weight is the rule of thumb) but you will begin to feel weak and run down if you eliminate it from your diet.  So source the best protein to suit your lifestyle.


If you don't like to cook, snacking on nuts and seeds like almonds, pistachios and sunflower seeds is a great way to get your daily protein.  But if you have the motivation and time to plan an meal, there are lots of ways to include protein.  Many recipes that call for meat can be made using a substitute so the possibilities are endless.  There are plenty of vegetarian recipes online  and cookbooks available, but make sure you aren't forgetting protein.   Look for cookbooks and recipes written by nutritionists or long time vegetarians, and make sure all the main meals have a protein component.  

Meat substitutes:

Tofu:  Made from soybeans, tofu is very high in protein and also is loaded with anti-oxidants, vitamins and important trace minerals.  It is also very diverse, and can be steamed, fried, marinated, or even mixed into drinks with a food processor to make protein rich smoothies.  Look for soft tofu for smoothies and firm tofu for cooking.  Tofu has a kind of neutral flavor, which means it is very adaptable and it picks up the flavors of the food you use with it.  Soy sauce, herbs and spices, tomato paste, Worcester sauce, olive oil and flavored oils are all great things to use when frying tofu or making a marinade.

Tempeh: Like tofu tempeh is made from soybeans, but has a distinctly different texture and flavor.  The fermentation process used in making tempeh retains the whole bean giving it a more solid texture and an earthy, rich taste that increases with age.  Tempeh is great to crumble into stews as you would minced meat, and is delicious when sliced thin and fried in a flavorful sauce.  Blackened fish recipes work well with a tempeh substitute and it can be breaded, seasoned and fried in the same way as fish to make a really tasty alternative. 

Seitan:  Often called "the vegetarian white meat" seitan is made from wheat gluten and is very high in protein.  It is flavored with soy sauce, garlic, seaweed and ginger and makes a meat substitute so convincing it can sometimes even fool meat eaters.  It is perfect for stews but also works well wherever you would use meat, such as burgers, tacos and burritos.  You can find it in many health food or organic stores, or if you are ambitious, there are plenty of recipes available to make it yourself.

Variety is the key:

In addition to using meat substitutes, just like their carnivorous counterparts, vegetarians and vegans benefit most from a diverse diet that incorporates protein.  Don't fall into the routine of a veggie burger every meal.  Not only is it boring, but it also doesn't create the diversity needed to get all the nutrients we need.  

Find ways to incorporate protein into your diet but don't rely on just one source. Vegetarians have a somewhat easier time than vegans and can explore egg and dairy recipes.  But both vegans and vegetarians can enjoy all the vast variety of high protein beans available, like black beans, chick peas, kidney beans and butter beans.  When in doubt, or pressed for time, just toss a half cup of beans into your salad to give it some substance and the important protein you need.  The same is true with nuts.  Try sprinkling some sliced almonds and chopped walnuts into a salad.  A handful of nuts before a meal provides the protein you need but is also a great way to control appetite if you are dieting. Vegetarians can add sliced eggs and cheese to make a protein rich and delicious salad or snack plate.

Avoid the pitfalls:

Vegetarians and  vegans alike need to be careful about balancing protein and carbohydrates in their diet.  As noted above, unfortunately, vegetarian options are sometimes very heavy in carbohydrates and protein free.  This can lead to a big imbalance in the diet and leave you feeling very run down.  It can also cause problems with blood sugar and weight gain.  Make sure the ample carbohydrates available to vegetarians are the good kind, like fresh vegetables and whole grains.   Most importantly, make sure you get your needed protein each day, and ideally at each meal.  

When in doubt, use a supplement.

In a perfect world we would all get our nutrition from a diverse and balanced diet.  But this can be a little challenging at times for vegetarians and vegans.  Traveling, staying with friends, or just being busy can make it difficult to incorporate the needed protein into each meal  Fortunately, there are some great protein supplements on the market that can solve these occasional problems.  Protein bars are a tasty, easy way to get a quick protein boost, though vegans need to read the label to make sure it contains no animal products.  Likewise, protein powders are very easy and many are suitable for both vegetarians and vegans.  Look for a powder that has plant based protein such as soy if you are a vegan.  The flavored mixes make great smoothies, but you can get the unflavored type as well and mix it into any soup, stew or drink. 

By Louise at Grace




By: Clara Loves Her Dog
On: 04/30/2014 09:43:16
What a great article! I was a vegetarian all through my 20's. I don't want to give my age away, but this was at a time when it was not so popular as it is today. I finally gave it up (though I still don't eat beef - just fish and poultry) because it was just too hard! I have been thinking for a while now about going back to it. I had so many reasons then and enjoyed it a lot. But there wasn't lots of easily available information then. I remember one of the problems I had was low iron and occassional periods of feeling just a little run down and I think it usually coincided with long periods of not getting enough protein. Back then there weren't meat substitutes readily available, rarely could you find something like tofu in the local supermarket, and restaurants ONLY served things like pasta and vegetables as the vegetarian option, so it was easy to fall into the high carb low protein trap. Weird this article would pop up today, as I was just thinking about it this morning. I think I am going to give it another try and follow some of the above tips. As noted, it really is easier these days, and I know a lot more now and some of the above tips will help me get my protein. Glad I checked it out today - must be fate! Thanks for the article.
By: Anna
On: 04/30/2014 09:59:33
This is so interesting. I was once a vegetarian (just for a year in college) and my mother worried I would waste away. In fact I gained weight that year! I think it was because, as the article notes, I wasn't getting enough protein and every time I went to a restaurant or ate at a friend's place, the options were always stuff like roasted vegetables and LOTS of stuff lke pasta and rice. Sometimes cheese would be really heavily used in restarants too because I think some chefs really don't get vegetarianism and think that you can fill them up and make it satisfying and substantial with lots of stuff like cheese and oils and butter. But the problem is that your blood sugar goes nuts, you get hungry fast and eat too much and often what you eat is just more and more carbs. I think some people hear vegetarian and think all vegetarians just eat salads and fruit all the time. But human beings must have protein, vegetarian or not, in order to stay healthy. But things are different now and in fact a lot of restaurants these days do include protein in vegetarian options, and bean dishes and tofu are much more popular. I don't think I am really flirting with being a vegetarian again, but it was a great experience to try it, and I do try to keep my meat consumption down, so these are great tips for everyone, I think, just in terms of mixing up your diet and exploring options. Thanks!
By: John
On: 05/01/2014 05:32:37
This article hits the nail on the head. My wife is a vegetarian and this is practically her mantra when she talks about how to stay healthy and live a vegetarian lifestyle. As the comments and the article point out, there still is some lack of underestanding, or at least lack of real accomodation, from time to time in the world at large for veggies, even though things have come a long way and protein deprivation is an easy problem to encounter if you don't take control. Will share this one with my wife, as she will be happy to see an article that sings her song on the topic of vegetarianism.
By: Kevin
On: 05/02/2014 09:51:17
I wish I could be a vegetarian, but I like meat too much. I guess I could cut back a litte though and it is helpful to know what options are out there. I have had tofu (who hasn't?) but never tried the other 2 meat substitutes. I will try to hunt them down, especially the one it said can fool a meat eater. If it can fool me, it can fool anyone - I will try it and report back.
By: Adam
On: 05/16/2014 07:52:47
Vegetarians and vegans should also be careful to make sure they are getting enough iron in their diets along with protein. However that at least with iron deficiency it is easy to deal with by just taking a multi-vitamin tablet, whereas protein can be a problem, so it is a good idea to use the kind of protein supplements the article mentioned. Good suggestions. Also, just before a meal if you eat some nuts it will help control appetite - so in addition to helping you get the protein you need, it can help people on diets.
By: Jenny
On: 05/27/2014 18:24:16
What do yo call a vegan post-punk band? Soy Division.

How many carnivores does it take to change a light bulb? None. They prefer to stay in the dark!

How many vegans does it take to change a light bulb? None. Everybody knows they can't change anything.

What does a zombie do after he eats a vegetable? He throws away the wheelchair!

What do you call a vegetarian with diarrhea? A Salad Shooter

Did you hear about the vegan devil worshipper? He sold his soul to seitan!

Ah, yes, excellent stuff, if I do say so myself... I even make myself laugh sometimes!

By: Kelly
On: 08/24/2014 14:57:00
I just became a vegetarian 4 months ago. Thanks for the article and it has some great ideas that I will try. One problem I have found is that I am growing a little anemic sometimes since i started this new way of eating. But I will just get some supplements. So far though, it is going really well, but it helps to have information like this, since I do sometimes wonder how I should be getting protein and if all you eat is carbs, you will be hungry all the time and end up eating too much. so this is really helpful advice!
By: Anna
On: 08/25/2014 20:02:08
Congrats on the change and good luck with the vegetarianism Kelly! I tried it once and loved it, though it was hard. I often think about trying it again, since I don't eat a lot of meat. Remember to make sure you get protein each day and iron - else you will feel a little weak and might gain weight ( surprising, I know, but vegetarian doesn't mean skinny like a lot of people think, and since it is usually more carb heavy,and lower in protein if you aren't careful veggies can sometimes end up hungry a lot and eating too many carbs. But if you can get past that and get a good plan and routine in place, you will probably be really happy as a veggie... I was and it is a lot easier these days then when I did it.
By: Amber
On: 09/12/2014 17:43:33
Ok I am going to do it. I have wanted to go vegetarian for a while and cut down on meat recently. This article was the last bit I needed to come across to decide. I will do my best to follow the advice here and in the comments. Wish me luck I will be happier if I can manage this.

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