I like to refer to myself as a fair-weather vegetarian. Ninety nine percent of the time I have no interest in eating meat but when that one percent kicks up a craving, I don’t feel the need to ignore it.
I don’t eat meat as a way of proving a point; my father is a hunter and I have no problem with those who enjoy the spoils of the circle of life. Simply put, I retired the food group because of how it made me feel.
About 4 years ago now I was suffering from terrible stomach pains, nausea and serious bloating. A friend of mine was good friends with a Dutch homeopath and put us in touch. After a few emails back and forth describing my symptoms and daily routines, he suggested I try eliminating foods from my diet. Meat just happened to be the first to go.
I noticed a change in my energy level, metabolism and attitude within the first week. Waking up each morning and finding a new way to incorporate more vegetables into my day was a challenge I happily accepted. Luckily for me, I had always been a lover of greens.
Around this same time I started working out more; going for daily jogs with my overactive dog, lifting weights and of course, Pilates. I was losing a lot of weight and my friends thought it was because I wasn’t getting enough protein in my new vegetarian diet. Little did they (and many others) know, vegetables and beans are as much a ‘complete protein’ as meat is.
Some Facts about Protein
Your body needs protein. It is a fundamental building block within the human body that allows cell regeneration and new growth. Protein is made up of 12 amino acids in your body, but your body requires 8 more from food.
When meat is referred to as a ‘complete protein’ it is because meat contains all 8 remaining essential amino acids. Knowing this, and often times having it be used as a sales pitch, is likely how so many people become misinformed about the benefits of vegetables and beans.
Did you know that there are indeed complete plant-based proteins? More importantly, did you know that you don’t have to get all 8 remaining amino acids from one source alone?
Let me put this in perspective for you using the wise words of a not so clueless Clueless star:
“When you think about protein not as meat but as a collection of crazy acids, you realize that each individual creature takes what it needs from the natural world to build its body [...] it’s downright difficult in our culture to develop a protein deficiency.”
~ Alicia Silverstone, The Kind Life, p. 59
My Favourite Sources of Protein
So friends, now that you know I’m not starving myself of protein, let me list my Top 10 Sources of Vegetarian/Vegan-Friendly Proteins:
1. Veggies – The greener the better in my books. One cup of cooked spinach alone packs 7 grams of protein and the same amount of boiled peas offers 9 grams.
2. Lentils – Great in stews, soups, casseroles and more, they offer 18 grams per cooked cup.
3. Quinoa – Being gluten-free as well as vegan-friendly this powerhouse is extremely versatile and offers 9 grams per cup.
4. Beans – From black beans to pinto or kidney, you can get anywhere between 13-15 grams of protein per cup. Worried about being gassy later (gasp!); don’t fret. When cooking beans add a bay leaf to help breakdown the sugar or bring to a boil in an open pot and remove the foam it produces.
5. Tofu – All you need is 4 ounces to get 9 grams. For such a cheap product that’s not too shabby.
6. Non-Dairy Milks – I prefer the taste of almond milk, but soy is just as good for you when it comes to counting protein. Think 7-9 grams for 1 cup.
7. Nut butters – Almond, peanut and even cashew butter are great sources; 8 grams per couple tablespoons.
8. Hemp – 30 grams of powdered hemp (not the smoking kind!) dishes about 11 grams of protein. Just add one banana, a cup of spinach and some almond milk for the ultimate smoothie.
9. Tempeh – This is great for burgers, sandwiches, and even stir fries and all you need is one cup to get 30 grams of protein. That’s more than eating 5 eggs.
10. Sprouted-Grain bread – Before I became gluten-free, this was one of my favourites. One sandwich with this bread alone can shield 10 grams. Oh how I miss my breads!
There you have it; a short list of protein-packed foods that didn’t come from an animal. Still think I’m not getting enough protein? I didn’t think so!