Vegetarian Proteins

This week in my rotation, I have been working with FSNE (Food Supplement Nutrition Education)  which typically educates SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) eligible families on nutrition.  This week, we worded with University of Maryland Extension Close Encounters Program.  They hosted 4th grade students from schools all over the state, not exclusively SNAP eligible students.

The lecture that we gave focused on MyPlate and explained the different food groups and the importance of having all of them in a meal.  When talking about protein, we asked the students if they could name some non-animal proteins.  Some kids had answers, but most of them struggled.  This got me thinking about some of the reactions even college aged students had about vegetarians.  I have frequently heard people state that vegetarians have a hard time getting enough protein.  This is a really common misconception that couldn’t be further from the truth.

For a typical lacto-ovo vegetarian, they can consume eggs and milk products, both of which have a lot of protein.  They also contain B12, which is important for blood cell production.  B12 is a nutrient that can be lacking in vegan diets.

Vegans avoid all animal products, including eggs and milk.  Even so, there are still plenty of options for protein.  These lists are from the USDA.

Beans and Peas:

black beansblack-eyed peas
chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
kidney beans
lima beans (mature)
navy beans
pinto beans
soy beans
split peas
white beans

Nuts and Seeds:

hazelnuts (filberts)
mixed nuts
pumpkin seeds
sesame seeds
sunflower seeds

These are all natural, unprocessed sources of vegetarian protein.  These can be turned into products like falafel and hummus(chickpeas), veggie burgers (a variety of beans) as well as a nut and seed butters like peanut butter, sun butter, almond butter and cashew butter.

There are also some other commercially processed protein sources:

Soy Products:

texturized vegetable protein (TVP)


soy milk
hemp milk

Used in combination, all of these foods can be used to meet the protein needs of a vegetarian.  So many dishes can be made using these foods that becoming deficient is really not that common.  Calcium, zinc, B12 and iron are nutrients of concern in vegetarians and vegans, so they have to work a little harder to get enough in their diet or take a supplement.

I am not advocating one type of diet over another, but rather trying to dispel the myth that vegetarians are unable to meet daily protein needs.  With some thought, most diets can meet nutritional recommendations.

 Do you have any favorite vegetarian recipes that contain protein?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s