If you’ve just turned vegetarian, or you’re about to, you might be worried about your protein intake. Even if you’re not, other people might be. It’s one of the most commonly asked questions: how do you get enough protein by just eating veggies?
But worry not. There are plenty of foods that provide a protein-packed punch. Dairy, vegetables and pulses are all great sources.
The key is re-thinking meals. So many of us have grown up eating meat every day that often we don’t know what else there is to eat. This was certainly my biggest hurdle when I went vegetarian and then vegan.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
Protein is essential because it’s used to build and repair cells. The NHS says we need 0.75g of protein for each kilogram of body mass. So if you weigh 70kg (that’s 11 stone in old money) you should aim for around 52.5g of protein each day.
On average, if your BMI is in the ‘healthy’ range, it works out at 55g for men and 45g for women. But if like me, you’ve started vegetarian life floundering around in the fridge wondering how much protein a lettuce contains, here’s a handy guide to some common foods:
- Medium-sized egg – 6.4g
- 400g tin of Heinz beans – 20g
- 100g of peas – 5g
- 100g of cheese – 25g
- 100g of non-fat Greek yogurt – 10g
- 100g of Quorn – 14.5g
- 100g chickpeas – 19g
- 100ml of milk – 3.5g
So if you have a tin of beans as part of a plant-based lunch and add some grated cheese, you’re roughly there. Or try a chickpea salad with a Greek yogurt for lunch and add some peas to your dinner – bingo.
Key Veggie Foods with Protein
Vegetarians can get enough protein each day from beans, pulses and dairy products.
Dairy sources include eggs, cheese, milk, yogurts, fortified soy, oat or rice drinks. Pulse sources (a pulse is a seed in a pod) are any beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas. There are also vegetarian foods which include tofu, mycoprotein (Quorn) and tempeh. Nuts and seeds are tasty and protein-filled too.
All these ingredients can be used in a variety of simple meals, or eaten on their own. Pulses in particular are very cheap and good for you as they’re also packed with fibre and minerals.
Simple Vegetarian Protein Filled Meals
Vegetarians don’t need expensive, complicated meals. You can cook up plenty without meat, fuss or expense. And the whole family will enjoy eating them with you!
Try popping some seeds or nuts on your cereal in the morning, or a few slices of peanut butter on toast. Early risers with plenty of time can enjoy scrambled or boiled eggs which are full of protein.
If you’re heading out for lunch grab a baked potato with beans, a panini with cheese, or a spicy bean filled burrito. If you have time to make a lunchbox, fill it with hummus, peanut butter, egg or sliced Quorn in a sandwich. Pre-prepared pea, bean and avocado salads are great. As are chickpea or butter bean soups with seeded bread.
It’s dinnertime and you’re automatically reaching for the chicken, stop! How about a vegetarian shepherd’s pie? Simply substitute mince with pulses and peas and pop in a few cubes of frozen spinach for extra iron. Make lots and freeze it for on-the-go dinners.
Other options are a vegetarian chili made with beans or tofu or a Quorn-based bolognese. You could try meat-substitutes with veggies or tofu in a blackbean sauce. Or how about a chickpea dhal and pea fritter with quinoa?
Quick dinners can be pulled together with no fuss. Scrambled eggs on toast with sunflower seeds. A cheese omelette. Black-eyed beans in a curry sauce. All full of protein!
If you’re getting bored with veggie life, don’t give up. Instead take inspiration from Mexican and Indian foods. These cuisines cater very well to vegetarians.
No Meat Doesn’t Mean No Protein
Protein is an important dietary element, and meat isn’t essential. If you eat pulses and dairy you’ll be powered by protein, despite what well-meaning relatives may say.
Even if you can’t give up meat entirely, you could try replacing it a few times a week. Regular pulse and vegetable based meals can improve your health and help build a more sustainable planet. It’s worth making the effort to go vegetarian so why not give it a try?