When most people hear that I am gluten free and vegetarian (mostly), they wonder how on earth I get my protein for the day. Generally most Americans eat plenty of protein, in fact most probably eat too much, especially those on the standard American diet (SAD). Perhaps this is where the misconception lies that it is hard to get enough protein on a vegetarian diet, let alone with the additional restriction of requiring a gluten free diet. Since as a vegetarian I am not overdosing on burgers and giant chicken breasts, I must not be getting enough protein!
First, let’s review how much protein an average person really needs. The Recommended Daily Allowance for a man is 56 grams and for women, 46 grams.
Out of curiosity, I counted my protein grams one day this week. My breakfast and lunch are pretty much the same every day. I know, boring! But it works for me, mainly for weight control.
3/4 cup Greek non-fat yogurt = 17g (a lot more protein than regular yogurt)
1-1/2 cups strawberries = 1g
1 Tbsp honey = 0g
1 oz baby carrots = 1g
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes = <1g
1 small apple = <1g
String cheese, low fat = 6g
Rice crackers, 1.5 servings = 1.5g
1 cup blackberries =2g
So, where are we after my typical breakfast and lunch? 29.5 grams, not bad. On some days I bring in some non-fat milk for chai and once every couple of weeks I will go across the street from my office and get a Starbuck’s tall non-fat chai. So let’s add that in there at 6g, or 4g if I bring my milk from home. Or, if not a chai, I will allow myself a snack of a rice cake with a bit of almond butter on top. Rice cake: 1g and 1 Tbsp almond butter: 3.5g.
So we’re at 33.5 grams, assuming I had a homemade chai. I only need 12.5 more grams the rest of the day. For dinner, let’s assume we had a tofu stir-fry with rice.
1 cup brown rice = 5g
1-3 oz. serving of tofu = 9g, but I probably had more like 1.5 servings for 13.5g of protein
So where does that leave me? 52 grams and I didn’t even count the vegetables we had with dinner.
Nor did I count the ice cream I had for dessert…we’ll pretend that didn’t happen since I shouldn’t count on it! (But I did go look in the freezer, a chocolate fudge bar has 4g and a 1/2 cup of ice cream has 2g, at least the kinds we have in our freezer right now.)
Now let’s look at some other typical protein sources for lacto-ovo vegetarians. (Remember that lacto-ovo means that we do consume dairy (lacto) and ovo (eggs).)
Yogurt, 1-6oz. container: 5g
Skim Milk, 1/2 cup: 4g
Egg, 1 large, cooked: 7g
Almonds, 1 oz.: 6g
Quinoa, 3/4c cooked: 6g
Chickpeas, 1 cup, cooked: 15g (!)
Cheese, 1 oz.: 7g
Brown rice pasta, 1 cup: 4g
Veggie burger: 5g
So, in reality, if you are eating a healthy, well-balanced, vegetarian diet, getting enough protein shouldn’t be much of a problem. If you are vegetarian and eating mostly junk or processed foods, you may or may not be getting enough. You may want to write down a couple day’s worth of meals and count them up to be sure. I know it has helped me pay a little more attention.
Are you vegetarian? Or partially vegetarian? What are your favorite protein sources?