Vegetarian meals don't have to mean non-filling and protein lacking. Did you know that legumes and certain grains are packed with the protein your body needs?
Most people know that meat, poultry, and fish are excellent sources of protein. If you're considering no longer eating meat and dairy products, you might worry that you won't get enough protein in a typical vegetarian meal.
According to the Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board, the average adult needs about 0.36 grams of protein for every pound of body weight, that's about 43 grams of protein daily for a 120-pound woman and about 58 grams for a 160-pound man. Consuming more protein than that is not necessarily better and eating lots of red, fatty meat can contribute to health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disorders, colon and liver cancer, and osteoporosis. Even athletes don't need that much extra protein compared to people who are weekend warriors.
Protein-Rich Foods: Know Your Options
Proteins are made up of compounds known as amino acids. Nine of these amino acids are considered essential. Animal foods contain all nine, and are the traditional, easy to get protein source. Most plant foods are lacking in one or more of the essential amino acids, which is why they're called incomplete proteins.
Many dairy foods are complete proteins, eggs, milk, yogurt, and cheese. However, vegans and some vegetarians won't eat dairy products because they come from animals. If you don't eat dairy, you'll need to get your protein from plant sources including soy products such as tofu, edamame, soy milk, and others.
Most plant foods, including grains, nuts, and legumes (beans), contain some amount of essential amino acids. But because they are not complete, you should pair certain foods together to get all of the essential amino acids you need in one vegetarian dish.
Classic vegetarian meal pairings that do add up to complete proteins are red beans and rice, corn tortillas and pinto beans, couscous and lentils, and hummus and whole wheat pita. Nuts and nut butters, such as from peanuts or almonds, are also excellent sources of protein.
Here's how much protein you can get from other sources compared to meat:
3 ounces of meat (about the size of a regular deck of cards): approximately 21 to 26 grams protein
1 egg: 6 to 7 grams protein
1 cup milk: 7 to 8 grams
1 cup soy milk: 7 grams
1 cup firm tofu: 20 grams
1 cup brown rice: 4.5 grams
1 cup quinoa: 8 grams
1 cup kidney beans: 15 grams
1 ounce roasted almonds: 6 grams