Nutrition Doc: Protein for Vegetarians

Q: I love your nutrition suggestions, but recently I became a vegetarian and most of your meals include meat. Can you help me out?

— Dan Johnson
Seattle, Washington

A: It is not essential to eat a 12-ounce steak to get protein. However, there is something to be said for the taste and texture of meat. Here are some vegetarian options that will provide protein and mimic the texture of some meats.A significant amount of dietary protein is found in foods like cereals, breads, pastas, grains, legumes, nuts and dairy products (or substitutes). Firm or extra-firm tofu (soybean curd) can easily be used as a meat substitute in most dishes calling for meat such as stir-fry. Tempeh, made from fermented soybean, is commonly used as a chicken substitute. Textured vegetable protein (TVP), a defatted soy flour, works best in recipes that call for ground beef such as meatballs. Seitan, made from wheat gluten very similar to pasta, is ideally used as a stand-in for beef. Quorn, a very popular product abroad, is a mycoprotein that is grown using controlled fermentation. Quorn comes in an entire line of convenient, ready-to-eat meals as well as grilling foods and ingredients.

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Animal protein, however, contains all of the essential amino acids in one complete package. Therefore, individuals who avoid all animal protein sources (i.e. vegans) may require more careful monitoring of their protein intake because many plant proteins are limiting in some amino acids. The simplest way to accomplish this is to eat a variety of foods at each meal, which should provide all of the essential amino acids and make the protein complete. In addition, vegetarians and vegans are encouraged to eat foods like quinoa (grain) and tofu, as both are complete vegetable proteins.

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