Vegetarian Protein Source

September 13th, 2011

Written by Michael Shaw

We at Brad’s Raw Foods are pleased to present this article by guest blogger, Michael Shaw. We suggest following a plant-based diet. Whether or not you subscribe to a raw food diet, we believe you will make tremendous strides in the investment of your future health. We hope you enjoy the read!

Vegetarian Protein Sources
If you grew up at all like me, then you were told on a regular basis – especially if you were on the thin side – that you needed to be sure and get enough protein! The subtext here was not only that you needed to eat more, but specifically that you needed to eat more chicken, and maybe eggs too. Not only is this mantra of worry not vegetarian or vegan-friendly, it’s also a bit of an old wives’ tale: for most of us, a healthy, balanced diet based on fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains provides completely ample vegetarian protein sources. When you do a little research, you’ll find that myth debunked frequently, by well-established diet and nutrition experts.

There are so many categories of non-meat-eating diets these days, though, that each one needs its own guidelines, whether you practice ovo-lacto vegetarianism, veganism, or a raw food diet, each progressively more challenging (and potentially time-consuming).

Where to get your vegetarian protein sources

Let’s start with the easiest:

Ovo-lacto vegetarian diet

This diet is for vegetarians who also eat eggs and dairy products, and it obviously equates to lots of protein options, as eggs and dairy are for the most part foods high in protein. If you are an ovo-lacto and many of your vegetarian protein sources are eggs are dairy, try to be conscious of your foods’ sources: if you have eggs regularly, don’t just buy cartons from your average supermarket, if possible: seek out eggs that don’t come from factory farms, but instead from smaller farms where the chickens can roam around and aren’t cooped up their entire lives. Here’s a great resource for finding high-quality egg sources: Organic Egg Scorecard. 

Health-wise, it’s important to recognize that Greek yogurt is an especially good source of protein as compared to milk and cheese (and more basic, lesser-quality yogurts), which tend to be pasteurized/processed in ways that good quality Greek yogurt is not. Even with eggs, yogurt, and the occasional cheese and milk, though, ideally they won’t make up the entirety of your protein sources—there’s still legumes (various beans, peas and lentils), grains (quinoas, brown rice, millet), and soy in numerous forms to mix into your diet as well. And all of the above are gluten-free if gluten is a protein you want out of your diet.

Vegan diet

With eggs and dairy off the shelf, so to speak, vegans are more dependent on legumes, grains and nuts for vegetarian protein sources. There’s also the aforementioned soy, as well as seitan, which is gluten-based so quite clearly not gluten-free. From my perspective, the key question for vegans to ask themselves is: how do I get along with soy? Soy has many incarnations, from tofu to tempeh to textured vegetable protein, and from soy milk to edamame, but how much soy can your own individual digestive system take? For some, it’s not an issue…they can have soy milk in their cereal, have soy-based veggie burgers for lunch and tofu for dinner. But for many, it’s more like: OK, whoa, that’s enough- easy on the soy! They become oversaturated with soy, and from then on they either can only have it mixed lightly into their diet, or not at all, at least for a while. Vegans should be aware of this, and regardless of their soy sensitivity, it’s probably best to rotate great-tasting grains like quinoa, or legumes like lentils or kidney beans, in with their soy intake. After all, variety is the spice of life.

Raw Diet

Raw diets obviously pose the greatest challenge as far as finding consistently solid

vegetarian protein sources, as not only are eggs and dairy out, so are most legumes and whole grains, since they need to be cooked. Tofu, too, isn’t raw diet-friendly (it’s for the most part processed), but sprouts, which provide relatively high protein doses, are. Nuts tend to become a much more significant player in a raw diet, primarily cashews and almonds, as well as walnuts (cashews, as you may know, are a raw food staple used to substitute for pasta and bread-like dishes). As with soy, however, some people can become nut-intolerant (for those of course who aren’t already downright allergic), and so raw foodists should monitor their reactions to nut intake on an ongoing, conscious level.

Going back to the original point of this article, though, raw food adherents will tell you that there is plenty of protein to be consumed from green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale) and other vegetables and fruits. And, in addition to sprouts, seeds are another raw food-friendly protein source: primarily pumpkin, flax, and hemp seeds, the latter of which is said to be a great overall source of protein, and one that makes a great protein powder (with no added sugars like typical protein powders) that can be added to juices and smoothies.

More so than with the other diets, a raw food diet should also be monitored in terms of its effects on your health; for some, the raw food path is the perfect way to go, producing all sorts of vibrant energy, great skin, and so on. If you do go the raw food route, keep good tabs on how your body is responding, and be open to pulling back to a semi-raw diet, if necessary.