Getting In Your Protein As A Vegetarian
If you have been following me for any amount of time, you know that protein is kind of my jam. That, along with fats and carbs, that is. CLICK HERE to read more about the approach we call “PFC Every 3” that will rock your whole dang world.
A key component of what I teach is that we have to eat a COMPLETE protein WITH a fat and a carb every time we eat. We eat this kind of PFC meal every 3-4 hours and my clients consistently experience a boosted metabolism, hormonal balance, improved gut health, weight loss, more energy, improved mood, clearer skin…and so much more!
But it’s the COMPLETE protein that hangs people up sometimes. Fat and carbs, let’s face it, are pretty easy to come by, but the protein piece can make it tricky. I also find myself getting into a lot of debates with vegans and vegetarians about appropriate protein sources because we really need ones that are complete, thus having all 9 essential amino acids that our bodies can’t produce on their own.
Quick science lesson here: Protein is the main building block in our body’s system. It is responsible for the growth, repair, and maintenance of our body’s tissue and is composed of chains of amino acids. These amino acids include ones that our bodies can make on their own (these are called non-essential) and those that our bodies cannot make on their own (these are called essential) and we can only get those from food.
Complete proteins have all the essential amino acids and are used immediately by our bodies. These mainly come from animal sources and some plant-based proteins (soy, quinoa, hemp, chia).
Incomplete proteins don’t have all of those essential amino acids and need to be combined together so that they can be considered “complete.” When you look at labels and see that certain plant-based foods are “high in protein” they are often incomplete proteins and therefore a bit misleading. This often is the case with nuts, beans, and chickpeas…all higher in protein than other vegetarian proteins, but still not complete.
Combining vegetarian proteins is one way to ensure you are getting all your essential amino acids however when you combine many of them in one meal, you are often spiking your carb and or fat count so high that it becomes counterproductive. Click here to watch a video on one of my clients who, before working with me, went vegan and gained 25 pounds!
So for all your vegetarians out there, how do you get your complete proteins in when you don’t want to do animal proteins such as beef or chicken? Well, read below for some great ideas!
Eggs: Eggs are an incredible food source for us. Both a complete protein and a fat, eggs used to get a bad rap but not anymore! In fact, it has been determined that eggs don’t cause high cholesterol and are an incredible source of nutrients! One egg yields about 6g of protein and 4.5 grams of fat. Take out the yolk and you reduce the protein so my suggestion is that a woman typically eats 2 yolks worth and 3-4 egg whites.
We use pasteurized egg whites all the time for pure protein if we want to add a different fat…so we make egg white omelets and add fat in avocado or cheese. Another way to eat eggs that people think is CRAZY but is actually awesome is in a shake! That’s right, if they are pasteurized you can drink them so add them to chocolate almond milk with a bit of flaxseed oil for fat and you have an amazing PFC meal that tastes like chocolate milk! Even your kids will love it!
Vegetarian Protein Powder: Incorporating 2 high-quality vegetarian protein shakes into your PFC meals will cover more than 30% of your meals for the day! Adding a good carb and fat to it will make it a perfect balance with water or unsweetened almond/ or coconut milk.
However, don’t let plant-based protein fool you. MOST plant-based proteins do not have the 9 essential amino acids that we cannot produce ourselves and therefore will impact our body’s ability to benefit from protein. Even pea protein, which is marketed as a complete protein on its own, does have the essential amino acids, however, they are low in some of them so it’s not ideal. When looking for a plant-based protein powder, look for ones with at least 3 different types, with peas being one of them.
Soy: So, let me first say, I am NOT a fan of soy. 98% of it is GMO and on the off chance, you can find it non-GMO, regularly eating soy can impact our hormones negatively, especially in women. However, tofu and edamame are sources of protein that are complete and not really high in fat or carbs. In fact, a serving of edamame is a great PFC balance.
Quinoa, Hemp, and Chia Seeds: These are great sources of complete proteins but because they are higher in carbs or fat, they aren’t going to be enough on their own. I suggest mixing and matching these so you can get a PFC meal in the combination. For example, a stir-fry of quinoa and hemp seeds is a PFC, and add some sautéed veggies for a great meal! Chia is incredible but it has to be soaked or ground so add it to a shake you blend or soak in coconut milk! If you soak it in coconut milk overnight and add some vegetarian protein powder and berries, you can have an incredible PFC breakfast!
Dairy: Yogurt and cottage cheese are actually great forms of complete proteins, although dairy can be problematic for so many reasons. Having one meal a day (or even better, every few days) of a dairy-based protein will give you your complete amino acids and is really yummy!
Non-Complete Vegetarian Proteins: There are many foods out there that although not complete, are high in protein. The key is to combine them so that you aren’t getting too high in fat or carbs. You will want to be eating about the same amount of carbs as you do protein so keep that in mind as you mix and match. Your fat portion should be half of the carbs/protein and you should be eating one of these portions of PFC meals every 3-4 hours. See below for a list of higher protein foods and I have noted those that also should be counted as fat or carb at the same time.
|Vegetarian Protein (incomplete unless stated)||Nutritional Info||Notes|
|Chickpeas||(1 cup) 15g of protein, 4g of fat and 33g of carbs||Eat ½ cup and add another protein source and fat|
|Nutritional Yeast||(2 tbsp) 7.6g of protein, 1.2g of fat and 2g of net carbs||Add another ½ serving of protein as well as a serving of fat and carb|
|Green peas||(1 cup) 7.6g of protein, .3g of fat and 14g of net carbs||Peas are complete but don’t have the full amount of each amino acid so combining with a ½ serving of another vegetarian protein is a good way to get close to a complete serving. Add fat and a bit more carbs|
|Lentils||(1 cup dry) yields 18g of protein, .8g of fat and 24g of net carbs.||While this isn’t complete, the balance of protein and carb is pretty good. Adding a fat and a lean protein such as egg whites or nutritional yeast could be a good combo!|
|Most variety of beans||(1 cup cooked) yields about 15g of protein, .9g of fat and 29g of net carbs||Similar notes to lentils above|
|Ezekiel Bread (Complete)||(1 slice about 34g) yields 4g of protein, .5g of fat and 12g of net carbs||This is actually a complete protein but low compared to what else is needed. Consider combining this with other lower carb protein to make it more balanced|
|Hemp (Complete)||(3 tbsp) yields 9.5g of protein, 15g of fat, and only about 1g of net carbs||This is a fatty protein so you would need about ⅓ to ½ of this to make sure you aren’t too high in fat, however, combining this with a carby protein is a good way to get more of a vegetarian balance!|
|Oats||(½ cup) yields 5.3g of protein 2.5g of fat and 23g of net carbs,||Doing something like overnight oats soaked with chia seeds could be a good way to get more of a balanced PFC|
|Chia Seeds (Complete)||(2 tbsp) will yield 4g of protein, 8g of fat and 2g of net carbs.||Because this is a complete protein, it’s great to incorporate with other vegetarian proteins but it does add alot of fat. One serving with a carby protein is a good combination but remember it needs to be soaked or ground.|
|Quinoa (Complete)||(½ cup dry) yields 4g of protein, 1.8g of fat and 18g of net carbs||Every package of quinoa seems to have different nutritional content so check your packaging. This is a complete protein but high in carbs so mix with a lean protein.|
|Wild Rice (Higher in protein than other rice)||(1 cup) yields 6.5g of protein, .6g of fat and 32g of net carbs||Similar to the lentils and beans info|
|Nuts, nut butters and seeds||One ounce (28 grams) contains between 5–7 grams of protein, depending on the nut and seed variety, 13-15g of fat and 2-4g of carbs||Not a complete protein, but still an option as you think about other carby proteins you want to combine it with|
|Vegetables: Vegetables with the most protein include broccoli, spinach, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts.||Typically these 4–5 grams of protein per cooked cup but each has a different carb count so refer to nutritionix.com or another internet based search engine for specifics||All fruits and vegetables contain protein, but the amounts are usually small.|
How do you know the protein content? I use an app such as Nutritionix.com or MyFitnessPal to help me determine the protein, fat, and carb content in each food. While they aren’t always spot on, they do give you a good idea! Remember, if your protein isn’t coming from an animal source, it isn’t complete, and try to mix and match other proteins with it to get as complete as possible.
Last Note: Because combining 3 or more proteins to make it complete can be tricky when trying to keep your PFC balanced, vegetarians and vegans may need to take a “daily” approach to their PFC instead of going meal by meal like I train people to do. What does that mean? It means while you should still have a protein at every meal, you may need to get your combinations in over the course of a day vs each time you eat.
I hope this helps you make sense of your protein intake a bit more! While it’s not as straightforward as animal-based proteins, you can make it work and be successful!!!