Vegetarians — How do you get protein?

“I’m a vegan.”

“So, you don’t eat fish?”

“Nope. Nothing with a brain. Even a teeny tiny one.”

“Eggs or dairy?”

“Um, nope. Eggs and dairy come from little guys with brains.”

“So, where do you get your protein?”

I have this conversation almost every time someone new discovers I’m a vegan. I even have a few friends who repeat the questioning each time we sit down for a meal. Protein, it seems, is the most important nutrient to people. No one ever asks, “Where do you get your magnesium?”

Proteins are parts of cells in our bodies, and after they are broken down, we need to replace them. They are made up of twenty amino acids, but our body can only make eleven of them. We call the nine that our body cannot make essential amino acids. When we eat proteins, they are digested into amino acids, which replace the parts we lost.

Some proteins, like meats, are complete — they contain all nine essential amino acids. Others, like those from most plant sources are not complete. They have some of the nine essential amino acids, but not all. We do not need to consume all nine with each meal. By eating a variety of plant-based foods throughout the day (vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and beans), we get all the essential amino acids in the aggregate.

Check out this list which will give you a taste of how much protein is found in plant-based foods:

  • Lentils (1 cup) — 18 g
  • Garbanzo beans (1 cup) — 15 g
  • Lima beans (1 cup) — 15 g
  • French beans (1 cup cooked) — 13 g
  • Peas (1 cup cooked) — 9 g
  • Tofu (3 oz.) — 8 g (complete protein)
  • Quinoa (1 cup cooked) — 8 g (complete protein)
  • Couscous (1 cup cooked) — 6 g
  • Spinach (1 cup cooked) — 5 g
  • Pomegranate — 5 g
  • Corn (1 large ear) — 4 g
  • Dates (1 cup pitted/chopped) — 4 g
  • Walnuts (14 halves) — 4 g
  • Steel cut oats (1/4 cup dry) — 4 g
  • Swiss chard (1 cup cooked) — 3 g
  • Broccoli (1 cup raw) — 3 g
  • Kale (1 cup cooked) — 3 g
  • Avocado (1 fruit without skin and seed) — 3 g
  • Blackberries (1 cup) — 2 g
  • Cauliflower (1/2 cup cooked) — 1 g
  • Orange (1 medium) — 1 g
  • Banana (1 medium) — 1 g

I am continually amazed to discover that fruits like pomegranates contain protein. On any given day I’ll eat most of the foods on that list. So not only am I getting more than enough protein, I’m also getting tons of cancer-fighting phytochemicals and nutrients like magnesium.

Rather than being so focused on protein, protein, protein, we would do better focusing on nutrients, nutrients, nutrients. If you eat your fruits and vegetables, not only will you get all the essential amino acids for strong, healthy cells, but you will also flood your body with gobs of health-promting nutrients.

For information on how much protein you need for your body type and lifestyle check out this and this.


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  1. elissa stone says:

    this post came at a perfect time! i just told my husband last night i was going to research a ‘list’ of good sources of protein. thanks! starring this one for sure!

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