When it comes to eating a balanced, healthy diet, some nutrients may be hard to obtain. For vegans and vegetarians, it may be even more difficult, especially when it comes to protein.
A major source of protein for non-vegans and vegetarians is typically animal products and dairy, however, that's not an option for herbivores. A vegan is one who avoids animal products in all forms — including clothing — for environmental purposes. A vegetarian may consume eggs and dairy, but no other animal meat.
Some may think that without meat in one's diet, getting enough protein may be impossible. But that's not so, according to Nicole Pritikin, a nutritionist who owns a private practice in Dorset, Vt.
"[Eating enough protein] is the popular fad right now," she said. "With the average American diet, people are eating plenty of protein. If they're vegetarian, they're not getting [traditional] protein. But, it's very possible they can get enough from plants, lentils, beans, soy, nuts, etc."
The average person should consume between 45 to 50 grams of protein per day, according to Jack Paliercio, registered dietician at The Nutrition Center in Great Barrington, Mass. He agrees with Pritikin that this shouldn't be hard to obtain, even for non-meat eaters, with the amount of protein-packed options available.
Foods high in protein include nuts and nut butter, beans, green peas, leafy greens and quinoa.
There are many reasons why one might switch to a vegan or vegetarian diet. Living a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle can decrease heart disease and hypertension, according to registered dietitian Wendy Bernstein, who works in Northampton, Mass. The diets also heavily rely on foods that protect against cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes. On the flip side, an omnivore diet can sometimes be high in saturated fat and cholesterol.
While some may believe a plant-based diet is harder to achieve, it has plenty health benefits and numerous options to achieve necessary nutrients that make it worth the effort.
"As long as a person is eating enough calories with a variety of different plant-based foods, it's likely they're feeding their protein needs adequately," Paliercio said. "There is a slew of protein-rich foods in the plant world from legumes to beans and whole grains, soy for a meat dish, and nuts. All are perfectly viable sources of protein."
Some athletes may be concerned that being vegan or vegetarian may make it more difficult to build muscle, but Paliercio said that's not the case. Muscle building is done by physical work and not protein supplement and the desired amount can still be met with enough calories and a varied diet, he said.
With a little menu planning, and variety of foods, vegans and vegetarians alike can meet their protein needs without compromising their lifestyle choices.
"With planning, you will be able to consume a well-balanced diet," Bernstein said. "Vegetarians and vegans need to plan to ensure you are receiving vital nutrients our body needs."
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.
Consider these food options when trying to work more plant-based proteins into your diet:
Green peas: One cup equals eight grams of protein, which is about the same as a glass of milk.
Quinoa: A versatile grain with more than eight grams of protein per cup.
Nuts and nut butter: Five or six grams per ounce of nuts.
Beans (black, white, pinto, and heirloom): Two cups of kidney beans equals 26 grams of protein while a Big Mac from McDonald's has 25 grams of protein.
Chickpeas/garbanzo beans: For a half a cup, these beans contain about seven grams of protein.
Tempeh and tofu (meat substitute): Per half cup, they contain 15 to 20 grams of protein.
Seitan (meat substitute made from wheat gluten): Per half cup, it contains 36 grams of protein.
Edamame: About eight grams of protein per half cup.
Leafy greens: Two cups of raw spinach contains about two grams of protein while one cup of chopped broccoli contains about eight grams of protein.
Hemp: Usually found in cereal or trail mix, this grain holds 10 grams of protein in three tablespoons, which is more than soy.
Chia seeds: They expand when put in water and contain four and a half grams per two tablespoons.
Sesame, sunflower and poppy seeds: Sunflower seed kernels have about seven grams per quarter cup, while sesame and poppy seeds have five and a half grams per quarter cup.
Non-dairy milk (plain soy milk): Per eight ounces, soy milk contains four to eight grams of protein.
Unsweetened cocoa powder: It has one gram of protein per tablespoon.