No, I don’t only eat vegetables
When people find out that I’m a vegetarian their first question is always “are you sure you’re getting enough protein?” As an avid runner and equestrian I’m extra careful to make sure I’m nourishing my body properly so that I’m able to continue to practice what I love. When I made the choice to become a vegetarian five years ago I was a little nervous about trying new foods to expand my protein source options, and I’ll admit it: I mostly ate a lot of peanut butter to begin with. I worried that I would have to turn to powdery supplements to stay healthy. I then realized, however, that protein can be found in a variety of natural sources, and many people are eating a protein rich diet and don’t even realize it. While I tried new bean and lentil dishes, I also explored the content of other foods in my pantry.
While it’s common knowledge that nuts and dairy products contain protein, you might not guess that it’s also in some vegetables and whole grains. As a quick comparison, one ounce of pistachios has 6 grams of protein, and one cup of cooked spinach contains over 5 grams of protein! Broccoli, peas, beans, and even asparagus are also protein sources. Protein can also be found in bread and pasta. One cup of brown rice has five grams of protein (the same amount as one ounce of pumpkin seeds). One slice of wheat bread has 4 grams of protein, while white bread contains 2 grams of protein.
It’s good to know that some vegetables and whole grains are contributing to your protein needs for the day, but don’t count on having only veggies and carbs as your sole source of protein. The protein that comes from these foods may be missing important amino acids that are found more commonly in dairy, eggs, nuts, beans, and seeds. Eating a variety of protein-containing foods is your best bet.
You might be wondering: but how much protein do I need to eat a day? People typically need between 40 and 60 grams per day, but it depends on your age and size. Find your age group below and follow the multiplication instructions to find out how many grams of protein you should aim to eat per day:
Ages 11-13: multiply your age by .455
Ages 15+: multiply your age by .37
It is also important to make your meals well balanced, taking into account your fruit, veggie, protein, and carbohydrate intake. It is definitely possible to be a vegetarian and maintain a healthy diet without turning to processed supplements!
This article on protein from the CYWH is another great resource: http://youngwomenshealth.org/2012/12/27/protein/
For more information about how to be a healthy vegetarian, click here.