What is the first thing someone asks you once they’ve found out you’re vegan, vegetarian, or know that you are considering switching to a plant based diet? You know where I am going with this! “Where will you get your protein?” I am sure your family and friends are looking out for your best interest, but protein is the least of your worries. If you are thinking about making the switch, here’s what you need to know.
Proteins are the building blocks of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, hair, and nails. Protein is also necessary to create antibodies, hormones, and enzymes, and is essential for growth, development, and repair. Protein is composed of amino acids. Essential amino acids must come from food because they cannot be produced by the body. Protein sources are classified as being either complete or incomplete. Complete proteins contain all essential amino acids and incomplete proteins are deficient in one or more essential amino acids. Plant based sources of protein are less likely to be sources of complete protein. Should you be worried? No, you can obtain essential amino acids by having a well balanced diet.
A well balanced diet consist of protein from legumes, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains. Grains, nuts, and seeds are high in methionine, but deficient in lysine, and legumes and vegetables are high in lysine, but deficient in methionine. Meeting with a dietitian can help you perfect plant based eating. A few examples of meals and snacks containing complementary proteins are beans and rice, vegetarian chili with cornbread, a peanut butter sandwich with whole wheat bread, hummus with whole grain pita chips, or a vegetable stir-fry with tofu (which is made from legumes) and brown rice.
Once you assure your friends and family that you will be consuming adequate sources of protein, they might ask “can you get enough protein?”. The answer is yes, a plant-based diet can provide adequate amounts of protein by incorporating protein rich plant-based foods into meals and snacks throughout the day. Plant based proteins do contain less protein than animal sources, but legumes, soy products, grains, seeds, and nuts are great sources of protein, but the amount of protein per serving in plant-based foods can fluctuate. So when they ask you where will you get your protein and if you will get enough you can assure them they do not need to worry.