Kitchen Questions: How Do Vegetarians Get Their Protein? And Other Common Questions

If you’re one of those people that is skeptical of a vegetarian diet, then let me alleviate some of these concerns for you. I’m also going to talk about some of the benefits of a vegetarian diet. Some people are hesitant to switch to a meat-free diet and lifestyle simply because it is the “fear of the unknown.” That’s what this blog post is for. It’s an attempt to answer some questions and make people feel better about the possibility going meat-free or reducing the amount of meat in their diets.

Long-time readers of my blog may be wondering why I am posting something like this. Are you a vegetarian? I am not. However, I’m slowly making the switch to a more plant-based diet and working on cutting out certain meats and other animal products. For example, I have not consumed cow’s milk directly from the jug in years. Instead, I use almond or soy milk. In baking, that’s a different story — at least for now. The reason why I compiled this information is to have a resource for those who are curious about making the switch to a more “flexitarian” diet or a plant-based one.

Where Do Vegetarians Get Their Protein?

Simply put: plants!

This question, though a little annoying, I feel, is a perfectly valid one. Many people are not educated on the proper nutrient requirements for humans. It’s true, they know we need protein to survive and luckily for most people, protein is available in jam-packed meat products. Meat products are convenient and loaded with protein in a portion. However, most meat-eaters actually get too much protein in their diets.

On the other hand, for those who do not eat meat, we find our protein sources in the plant kingdom. And the options are just as abundant. In fact, they’re even more flavorful. Many times, vegetarian protein is more economical than its meat counterparts.

Quinoa, a complete protein that is popular among vegetarians.
  • Quinoa (a complete protein!)
  • Soy products such as tofu (some soy products are also a complete protein!)
  • Lentils (18g per cup!)
  • Tempeh (31g per cup!)
  • Peas
  • Chickpeas
  • Black and other beans
  • Pre-packaged vegetarian meat substitutes (such LightLife brand)

It is not only possible to obtain all the protein you need from plant-based sources—but it is also convenient and healthier to do so. Quinoa can be kept in a cool, dry place for months, even opened. Beans and chickpeas that are sold in the can are already cooked and only need to be drained and rinsed before adding to a meal. Tempeh, a product made from fermented soybeans, is loaded with fiber, vitamins, and probiotic benefits.

Do Vegetarians Get Enough Nutrients?

Vegetarians have a lot of foods to play with in the kitchen. Plants are colorful and extremely nutritious. A well-balanced vegetarian diet includes all the nutrients the human body needs in order to function properly. For example, a vegetarian salad can include red, yellow, and orange bell peppers, kale, half an avocado, chia seeds, walnuts, and tofu. Add in the usual lettuce, tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, and cheese (if you’d like) and you have a flavorful, colorful, and nutritious salad.

Tips for Getting Enough Nutrients as a Vegetarian

  • Eat a variety of food
  • Eat the rainbow (the properties that give food their color are often nutrient-rich foods)
  • Take a multi-vitamin a couple times a week if you’re concerned about deficiencies

Do Vegetarians Eat Enough and What Do They Eat?

This question is a loaded one. If by asking this question you mean “Do vegetarians go hungry?” then the answer is not usually. However, vegetarians may not eat a proper diet and thus have poor nutrition. So if you looking at this from a nutritional standpoint, then the answer becomes a little more convoluted. On the average, vegetarians who consume a well-planned (aka well-balanced) diet actually get more nutrients than their carnivore counterparts. This is partly due to the fact that vegetarians (and vegans, for that matter) eat a great variety of food. Doing this allows them to have more opportunities to obtain nutrients naturally.

However, sometimes even the best vegetarian diets can be lacking in certain nutrients. And for those that are full vegans (a person who consumes no animal products), a vitamin B12 supplement is highly recommended. Vegetarians and vegans have many opportunities to supplement their diet more naturally other than taking a supplement capsule. Calcium fortified soy milk is common and some brands of tofu are sold fortified with calcium and other nutrients.

When it comes to answering “What Do Vegetarians Eat?”, you would get an variety of answers depending on who you ask. Vegetarians, in general, do not eat animal flesh, including fish. Other vegetarians choose to limit or omit the consumption of dairy products and/or eggs.

Aside from animal flesh, a lacto-ovo vegetarian eats anything such as a baked potato with sour cream and cheddar cheese, macaroni and cheese, eggplant parmesan, lentil soup, 7-bean chili, even a veggie or meat alternative burger. The possibilities are literally endless for vegetarian cuisine!

What Are the Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet?

Now that I’ve debunked a few vegetarian common questions, let’s talk about the benefits of switching to a vegetarian diet.

There are dozens of reasons for switching to a vegetarian diet, but I am going to focus on eight reasons below. Many of these reasons are the ones that lead me to begin my switch to a vegetarian diet.

1. Reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer

Vegetarians eat a lot less animal fat and cholesterol, and end up replacing it with more fiber and antioxidants. This dietary switch helps prevent heart disease, stroke, and diabetes—the leading cause of death in the United States. According to research done by the American Dietetic Association, vegetarians are less likely to develop diseases in general.

2. Lose weight — and keep it off!

Did you know that switching to a plant-based diet can help you lose weight!? It’s true. Vegetarians typically weigh less than meat eaters. Meat tends to come with a lot of extra unhealthy fats and cholesterol, causing excess weight with long-term consumption. And you don’t have to count calories in order for the weight to drop. One study conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish found that overweight people who ate a low-fat and vegetarian diet lost an average of 24 pounds in the first year!

Many people do not switch to a vegetarian diet to lose weight, but it usually ends up being a nice perk of the change in lifestyle!

3. Compassion for animals

Americans have grown to depend on commercial farming, which often uses inhumane techniques to raise animals and slaughter them for meat. Commercial farming is also extremely taxing on the Earth’s natural resources (see more on this below!) For many the idea of how animals are treated prior to slaughter is very disturbing. And don’t think egg-producing chickens are out of the woods, either. Many times, hens are forced to live in extremely tight and overcrowded quarters, producing eggs each day. By being vegetarian, you are lowering the demand for this kind of meat and therefore reducing the amount animals that must suffer. 

4. Slow the aging process – Live Longer!

Switching to a vegetarian diet may add years to your life! One study, done in Britain, found that consuming a vegetarian diet can add an average of six years to your life. This happens because a vegetarian diet strengthens the immune system through vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. Additionally, it helps to prevent chronic diseases and reverse them which extends life span. You can read about the British study here.

5. Avoid toxic chemicals

The animals that we eat are usually pumped with chemicals to help prevent them from getting sick. They are also injected with hormones to help speed up the body’s natural processes in order to produce more babies or grow larger, quicker. Once the animal is slaughtered, the meat is then injected with more chemicals to help extend its shelf-life.

As a vegetarian, the most you’d have to worry about is fruit and vegetables pesticides. This can be easily avoided by purchasing organic produce from your grocery store or farmer’s market.

6. Reduce global warming and keep the Earth healthy

As discussed in No. 3 above, animal agriculture is environmentally costly. The food production for cows alone is astronomical; and their water requirements is not any better. This becomes damaging to the Earth’s natural resources. Additionally, the United Nations said in its 2006 report that livestock generate more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.  Most of it comes from carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide gases generated by manure. Therefore, the single most important step an individual can take to reduce global warming is to adopt a vegetarian diet.

7. It makes economic sense

A vegetarian diet is not only good for one’s personal health; it’s also good for the nation’s economy. Five diet-related chronic diseases cost the U.S. economy a staggering $1 trillion each year! Additionally, eating a vegetarian diet can help you save money each month!. Many of the vegetarian protein staples (discussed above) can be bought in bulk and have a long shelf-life. This can save you money over time. Also, fresh produce that is in-season tends to be cheaper per pound than some meats.

8. Help End World Hunger

Every 3.6 seconds a person dies from starvation, unfortunately children under the age of 5 are most often the victims.  On average, 40% of global grain production is used to feed livestock, although in richer countries the proportion of grain used for animal feed is around 70%.  “If all food crops grown globally were fed directly to humans instead of animals, around 70% more food would be added to the world’s supply, which would be enough to feed 4 billion additional people. Rather than cycle crops through livestock, that sudden surplus alone would be enough food to feed over half the humans on earth, let alone the 795 million who face hunger every day.” 

Well, there you have it. An overview of protein sources for non-meat eaters and reasons why switching to a plant-based diet, or simply including less animal products in your diet can be beneficial for you — not to mention, the world. While I know this isn’t the usual type of content I publish here, my goal for this site has always been a place to express my thoughts. This is true for both recipes and life in general. Sometimes my food-related thoughts are not always about recipes and which cookbook I want to work my way through. I know this was a long post, but thanks for sticking with it! I hope some people may find it useful.

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