A vegetarian diet refers to food that does not include meat, poultry, seafood and flesh of any other animal. It may also include abstention from by-products of animal slaughter. There are also many variations of vegetarianism based on certain food inclusion or exclusion. For example, Ovo-vegetarianism include eggs but not dairy products; lacto-vegetarianism includes dairy products but not eggs; Veganism excludes all animal flesh and products, such as milk, honey, and eggs, as well as items refined or manufactured through any such product, such as animal tested baking soda.

In general, vegetarian diet is criticized for not having good protein rich dietary ingredients. Protein is an important component of any diet. It is needed to help your body repair cells and make new ones. Protein is also important for growth and development during childhood, adolescence and pregnancy. It is a major part of the skin, muscle, organs and glands. But, we don’t need this in huge quantities.

The RDA recommends that people take in 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram that we weigh or about 0.36 grams of protein per pound that people weigh.(1) The protein requirement may be higher based on your daily activity and routine.  An athlete may have higher protein needs than a person who moderately exercises or who is not active. An athletes’ protein requirement can range from 0.36 to 0.86 grams of protein per pound.

For someone who is trying to lose weight, a high protein diet is recommended along with energy-restricted or low carbohydrate diet. There are multiple studies that show that high protein diet along with energy-restricted food induces sustained reductions in appetite & body weight (2), improved glycemic control and lipids (3). A person who eats a balanced diet, can get all the protein requirements for weight loss from his diet even from a vegetarian diet. Protein supplements that are low in calories and carbohydrate while maintaining high protein can be a good addition to a healthy diet.

It is very easy for a vegetarian person to meet the recommendations for protein. Nearly all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds contain some, and often an abundance of protein. Table 1 listed below shows vegetarian options and amount of proteins they have. Fruits, sugars, fats, and alcohol do not provide much protein, so a diet based only on these foods would not provide enough protein.

Table 1. Common Vegetarian/Vegan Protein Foods

FOOD

AMOUNT

PROTEIN (gm)

Tempeh

1 cup

31

Soybeans, cooked

1 cup

29

Lentils, cooked

1 cup

18

Black beans, cooked

1 cup

15

Kidney beans, cooked

1 cup

15

Chickpeas, cooked

1 cup

15

Pinto beans, cooked

1 cup

15

Lima beans, cooked

1 cup

15

Black-eyed peas, cooked

1 cup

13

Veggie burger

1 patty

13

Veggie baked beans

1 cup

12

Tofu, firm

4 ounces

11

Tofu, regular

4 ounces

10

Bagel

1 med. (3.5 oz)

10

Quinoa, cooked

1 cup

8

Peas, cooked

1 cup

8

Peanut butter

2 Tbsp

8

Veggie dog

1 link

8

Spaghetti, cooked

1 cup

8

Almonds

1/4 cup

8

Soy milk, commercial, plain

1 cup

7

Whole wheat bread

2 slices

7

Almond butter

2 Tbsp

7

Soy yogurt, plain

8 ounces

6

Bulgur, cooked

1 cup

6

Sunflower seeds

1/4 cup

6

Cashews

1/4 cup

5

Spinach, cooked

1 cup

5

Broccoli, cooked

1 cup

4

Table 2. Sample Vegetarian Diet and Total protein per day

Calories (kcal)

Fat (g)

Sat Fat (g)

Carbs (g)

Fiber (g)

Sugar (g)

Protein (g)

 Breakfast

351

12.83

1.708

39.25

4.7

13.03

16.41

  1 serving America's Choice Natural Walnuts

120

10

1

2

1

0

2

  1 cup Milk (Nonfat)

86

0.44

0.287

11.88

0

12.47

8.35

  1 cup cooked Oatmeal

145

2.39

0.421

25.37

3.7

0.56

6.06

 Lunch

331

10.53

4.882

35.48

8.3

4.68

29.12

  1 slice (1 oz) American Cheese

96

7.39

4.417

1.97

0

1.83

5.37

  1 serving Boca Original Vegan With Soy Protein Meatless Burgers

100

1

0

9

6

0

19

  2 regular  slice Whole Wheat Bread

135

2.14

0.465

24.51

2.3

2.85

4.75

 Dinner

334

8.6

0.848

53.93

11.4

6.84

11.91

  1 serving Athenos Roasted Garlic Hummus

60

4

0

5

1

1

2

1 cup Cooked Mixed Vegetables (Corn,  Lima Beans,  Peas, Green Beans and Carrots)

151

3.96

0.748

23.82

8

5.72

5.2

  1 medium pita (5-1/4" dia) Wheat or Cracked Wheat Pita Bread

123

0.64

0.1

25.11

2.4

0.12

4.71

 Snacks/Other

210

0.2

0

30.4

2

27.6

20.4

  2 servings Chobani 0% Plain Greek Yogurt

120

0.2

8.4

7.6

20.4

  2 servings Sun-Maid Mini-Snacks Natural California Raisins

90

0

0

22

2

20

0

Total

1226

32.16

7.438

159.06

26.4

52.15

77.84

As it is visible from the sample vegetarian diet, one can meet daily protein requirements easily while being on vegetarian diet. People often say that animal sources of protein are complete proteins and most vegetarian sources are incomplete protein. The only difference between complete and incomplete protein is that complete protein provides all the essential amino acids and incomplete protein are low in one or more essential amino acids. In the past, it was thought that these complementary proteins needed to be eaten at the same meal for your body to use them together. Now studies show that your body can combine complementary proteins that are eaten within the same day. (4)

Dr. Gupta is the director for the Center for Medical Weight Loss & Metabolic Control and associate professor, Family Medicine, Rowan University.


References:

1.Trumbo P, Schlicker S, Yates AA, Poos M. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein and amino acids. J Am Diet Assoc. 2002;102(11):1621–1630.

2.Weigle DS, Breen PA, Matthys CC, et al. A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations.; 2005:41–48. doi:82/1/41 [pii].

3.Farnsworth E, Luscombe ND, Noakes M, Wittert G, Argyiou E, Clifton PM. Effect of a high-protein, energy-restricted diet on body composition, glycemic control, and lipid concentrations in overweight and obese hyperinsulinemic men and women.; 2003:31–39.

4.American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dieticians of Canada: vegetarian diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003;103:748–65.