Getting Your Protein the Vegetarian Way

Getting Your Protein the Vegetarian Way

fresh stew

By Catherine Cioffi, RD Contributing blogger

The type of protein you choose to eat has become a hot topic in America. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults should focus on lean protein, from a variety of sources. This can include lean cuts of poultry and meat, and fish. The guidelines also encourage “plant-based” proteins for both vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

Plant-Based Proteins
Plants and vegetables that offer a good source of protein include beans, peas and lentils (legumes), whole grains, nuts and seeds, and soy-based foods (such as tofu, tempeh, and edamame). For vegetarians and vegans, getting enough protein is essential to ensure proper nutrition.

The downside with these plant-based foods, however, is that most aren’t “complete” sources of protein. A “complete” protein is made up of all 9 essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. If a protein food only contains some of these essential amino acids, such as whole grains or beans, it is then considered an “incomplete” protein.

Building a Complete Diet
The best way to offset these insufficiencies in plant-based proteins is by eating a varied diet. At meals, one idea is to pair different types of plant-based proteins. This ensures that even if one source is missing a certain amino acid, the other source does provide it, and vice versa.

Mixing incomplete with complete proteins is another option. All animal sources of protein (like meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products) are considered complete. Certain plant-based foods, such as the soy-based foods and quinoa, also feature all of the essential amino acids.

Ideas for pairing proteins:
When you start to get creative, the possibilities for pairing proteins are endless. Below are a few examples of easy, yet delicious ideas:

  • Whole grain and beans such as whole grain pilaf with beans and greens
  • Beans and nuts such as veggie chili with mixed beans, cashews, and sweet potatoes
  • Whole grains and nuts such as whole wheat noodles with peanut sauce and chopped nuts
  • Dairy and whole grains such as cheesy whole wheat pasta


TELL ME: What’s your favorite way to build a delicious, meatless meal?

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