Coffee Talk / Foodie / Health

The Reluctant Vegetarian: What about Protein?

What’s up with protein?  In my quest to live a healthy lifestyle and put whole foods into my body, I started on a journey to educate myself in the area of nutrition.  After watching various documentaries, reading books and scientific studies,  I started wondering if a plant-based diet rich in whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes was the way to go.   However, the first question I had was:

“How can I get enough protein with a plant based diet?”

Photo:Jean Beaufort
CC0 Public Domain

 I had to ask myself:  “What is protein anyway and why do I need it?

Well, it turns out that our own bodies are made up of proteins.  These proteins are made up of chains of amino acids which are essentially responsible for processing everything in our bodies from repairing muscle tissue to bone growth, acting as a catalyst in transporting oxygen and suppling the essentials to our organs, hair, skin and nails.    There are two kinds of amino acids:  essential and non-essential.   Your body needs the essential ones, of which there are 9,  because they only come from food.  The non-essential amino acids can be produced by your own body, there are 11 of those.

Now the question was:  “Where can I get my protein?”  “Isn’t protein found only in meat products?”

Every living thing needs protein including cows, buffalos, chickens, elephants, and gigantic gorillas;  since these animals eat only plants and insects how can they get the proper amount of amino acids?    It turns out that all plants, grains, nuts and seeds have protein .  If elephants, one of the strongest animals on the planet can get enough protein from their plant based diet, certainly there was hope for vegetarians.

It turns out that meat is what they call a complete protein.  This means that it contains all 9 of the essential amino acids that our bodies need.  Most fruits, nuts, seeds and vegetables contain some, but not all of the 9 essential amino acids, to make up a complete protein.  There are a couple of exceptions though;  soybeans, spirulina, and the combining of rice and beans, and corn and beans.  Now I started to understand why so many vegetarians ate tofu and tempeh.  Those foods are a complete protein.

Now I wanted to know:  “How much protein do a need daily?”

I found out that it varies depending on age, sex and how much physical activity you get daily.

Here is an excerpt I found from on What is Protein:

“Some nutritionists and the World Health Organization (W.H.O) believe the U.S.D.A standards are too high. The W.H.O recommends 8 grams of protein for every 20 lbs. for adults.

By those standards, an adult woman weighing 130 lbs. would only need 52 grams of protein – less than half of what the U.S.D.A. suggests. An adult male of 180 lbs. would need 72 grams. Again, less than half. The discrepancies between the U.S.D.A and the W.H.O may reflect special interest pressures on those groups. At any rate, one might surmise that the U.S.D.A numbers are at the top end of any reasonable scale.”


So I went to search for a chart that listed the amount of protein in everything from vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds, nuts and dairy.  There are several online if you type in:  Protein in Vegetarian Food Chart.   What I came up with was very helpful.  Now all I needed to do was make sure I was getting enough protein in each meal.

As time goes by I can ditch the chart.    For now though, I can use it as a guideline.   In my quest to take charge of my health I have decided to try my hand at a whole foods plant based diet rich in ancient grains, nuts, seeds and fruit.   I hope this will be of some help on your journey as well.   I’ll leave you with the words of the great Greek physician, Hippocrates:

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”



References:  Very Well:  What is Protein?  Can the body produce protein? by Sara Tomm.