The Vegetarian diet is looked at with skepticism in some parts of the world. There is always the question about your daily intake of the required amount of protein. Vegetarian food has a wide variety to offer, you can get your daily protein intake and all of the essential amino acids from a vegetarian diet. However if you have any sign of protein deficiency, you must make choices in consultation with your doctor/nutritionist. Even for a healthy individual, before making any change to your diet, it is always advisable to consult your physician. Having said that, look at the diets of some of the leading athletes in the world – vegetarian and vegan are getting exceedingly popular and healthy choices for multiple reasons.
Some of the major sources of vegetarian protein can be classified into:
1. Legumes: beans, split peas and lentils
2. Grains and seeds
3. Nuts and nut butter
5. Veggies and fruits
The variety in legumes, grains, seeds and nuts is dazzling, with their colors, textures and size. Legumes alone are third largest family of flowering land plants known to us. With almost 20,000 species. So next time someone is skeptical about the protein intake of a vegetarian – let them know about the options vegetarians have. Consider the choices: between different kinds of lentils, beans, split peas, rice, wheat, amaranth, barley, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, almond, cashew, hazelnut, pecan, chia, hemp, pomegranate seeds …just to name a few.
Not all proteins contain the essential amino acids required for humans. Between legumes, grains, seeds and nuts – you can get your required amount of protein and amino acids (that is the building block of proteins). Not every source of protein is a complete one – giving us all the amino acids we need in required quantity, for our daily consumption.
Some of the sources of complete proteins are quinoa, buckwheat, hemp, chia, soy bean. You can also eat a combination of complementary proteins to get your daily intake, like beans and rice, hummus and whole grain pita, rice and yellow pea, nut butter with whole grain bread, bean soup with whole grain crackers. The list is endless.
Legumes are basically seeds that grow in pods. Beans are oval and kidney shaped, peas are round and lentils are flat disc. They might be a few exceptions. They are low in fat and high in protein and fiber. While lentils and split peas cook faster, beans need to be soaked for cooking. Legumes are not just beans, they include lentils, split peas and peanuts. Edible legumes are staple foods all over the world, accounting for one quarter of all agricultural production worldwide.
If we just talk about legumes, here are a few popular ones.
Adzuki beans: Small, reddish beans with a white ridge along the sides, has a strong, nutty and sweet flavor. Used in Japanese cuisine.
Moth beans: pronounced as ‘moat’ has an earthy and nutty flavor. Used in Indian cuisine. You get lot of variations in sizes and colors.
Red kidney bean: they have a meaty texture and often retain their shape after cooking. Used in cuisine world wide.
Black gram: also called, black lentil or vigna mungo. It’s a grayish – black lentil with a small while line on the side. It is white on the inside. It originated in India, and has been cultivated since ancient times. It is mildly sweet and very easy to cook, a slightly slimy consistency after it has been cooked.
Turtle beans: It is commonly know as black beans, has quite a strong and earthy flavoring. Used in Latin American and Caribbean Cuisine.
Black Beluga: are small back round lentil and is yellow inside. They are named after the caviar they resemble. Earthy flavor, soft texture and don’t easily fall apart, they retain their shape after cooking. Popular in south Asia.
Chickpeas: Also know as Garbanzos. They are round and pale brown in color, have a mild nutty-sweet taste. Great for hummus and dip. Channa-masala is a famous North Indian delicacy made from chickpeas.
Moth Bean: pronounced as ‘moat’ has an earthy and nutty flavor. Used in Indian cuisine. You get lot of variations in sizes and colors
Fava Bean: also know as broad bean. Much firmer than lima and not as mealy. They really taste very well when seasoned with salt pepper and a dash of lime.
Bengal Gram: has a dark brown rough covering on it. It is also called beluga lentil
Pinto Bean: Beige with brown streaks uncooked. They turn a uniform pinkish-brown when cooked. It is a variety of kidney bean and has to be soaked for at least 4 hours before cooking .
Peanuts: most people assume it is a nut, but it is a legume, high in protein and a poor man’s meal.
Soy Bean: An excellent source of protein, it has a nutty flesh and is a very versatile bean. Soy milk is a great substitute for cow’s milk for those who are lactose intolerant.
Grains and seeds are an integral part of a vegetarian diet and even though we do not think of protein when we think of grains. Think again, here is a list of protein in the most popular grains and seeds. Amaranth, quinoa, chia and hemp and many others are sold as super foods. Even long grain white rice (1 cup) has 4.3 gm of protein. If you made a pilaf with nuts and eat it with a lentil curry – that’s substantial amount of protein. Rice is the most consumed food in the world. Not limited to Asian food, from risotto to paella to the world famous rice and bean, rice is not just a bowl of carbs, and moreover what are you eating with your rice and what kind of rice are you eating?
Dairy is another important source of protein for vegetarians, though it is not part of a vegan diet. From different kinds of cheese that can be incorporated in meals, to yogurt.
Vegetables and fruits are not just nutrient rich foods, some of them do give us protein – you may not be able to substitute your grilled chicken with a plate of broccoli and have the same about of protein, however a combination of protein rich food can help you substitute. A salad with broccoli, with nuts, cheese, nut butter dressing, can add up to substantial protein for your daily intake – along with a lentil soup. Spinach, Brussel sprouts, broccoli are higher in protein content than most other vegetable. It is all about combining the foods – vegetarian, vegan or any other diet. Lentils with vegetables and rice or hummus with whole grain pita – the possibilities are endless.
If you are not used to cooking with legumes, Tasty Bite has a huge variety of lentil curries such as Bombay Lentils, Channa Masala, Jodhpur Lentils, Madras Lentils, Spinach Channa, as well as Paneer Makhani, another rich source of protein (from milk). You have many options for vegetarians as far as protein is concerned, it not just baked beans and rice!
Recipes rich in vegetarian protein:
Disclaimer: The author is not a nutritionist or an expert in the field, all information is provided to the extent of the author’s knowledge. No changes to one’s diet, lifestyle, or any other aspect of person should be made without consulting a medical professional. The author is not liable for any issues that may arise as a result of any advice followed pursuant to this article
Some of the sources used: