Tuesday, April 23, 2019
I'm a vegetarian. How can I get enough protein?
If you are a vegetarian you’re probably used to being asked, “Where do you get your protein from?” Everyone becomes very concerned that you aren’t getting enough protein, but in reality, protein deficiencies in America are rare. Although meat is a standard protein staple in the American diet, many other non-meat sources can meet your protein needs. Protein is found in dairy products (cheese, milk, and yogurt), eggs, nuts, legumes, and in smaller quantities of starches and vegetables. The USDA recommends 10-35% of your daily calories come from protein. When broken down in day-to-day life, that can look like having 2 protein foods at each meal (eggs at breakfast, tofu at lunch, and a veggie burger at dinner) and 1-2 protein foods at snacks (such as yogurt or nuts). The flexibility of how to get your protein is up to you, but overall most Americans get plenty of protein regardless if they eat meat or not.
Protein has many valuable functions in the body – building tissue and muscle, hormone production, immune function, energy when carbohydrates are not available, and preserving lean muscle mass. And while there are some populations that might have higher protein needs – such as elite athletes, pregnant women, and older adults – society can certainly overvalue protein as the “ultimate” food group that you should eat all the time. This tends to stem from the same mindset that demonizes other food groups as being “bad”. Food does not have moral value. Eating more protein than your body needs is associated with its own side effects and medical conditions, as is the case with eating too much of any food group. Finding the balance of all the food groups and eating them in moderation keeps your body and mind healthy and functioning at its best.
People choose to adopt vegetarian diets for many valid reasons, such as compassion for animals, trying to reduce their carbon footprint, or for religious reasons. Although a vegetarian diet can be nutritionally adequate, it’s important to be mindful of the intention behind following a vegetarian diet. Vegetarian diets aren’t necessarily more healthful or less healthful than an omnivore diet and restricting food groups can feed into disordered eating. If the goal is to lose weight or restrict certain food groups, it’s important to explore that with your dietitian and therapist.
Tori Davis, MBA, RDN, LDN - is one of the two nutritionists/dietitians at The Awakening Center. You can contact her for individual nutrition counseling by emailing her at email@example.com