One of the main concerns of vegetarians is the proper obtaining of protein. This is because protein is an essential nutrient for the maintenance of a number of functions in the body, such as the formation of tissues, the production of hormones and enzymes, and the transport of substances in the blood.
However, unlike what many believe, it is possible to get enough protein through a well-planned vegetarian diet. Fortunately, there are many sources of plant protein that can be incorporated into a balanced vegetarian diet. Next, we’ll explore which protein source foods to use for this audience:
Before we talk about specific foods, it’s important to understand how plant protein works. It is composed of amino acids, which are the basic units of proteins. There are 20 different types of amino acids, and our body is able to produce only a few of them. The others must be obtained through food.
Animal foods, such as meat, milk, and eggs, contain all the essential amino acids in proper proportions. On the other hand, foods of plant origin, in general, have lower nutritional quality and lower availability. Therefore, it is important to combine different sources of vegetable protein to get all the necessary amino acids.
What are the most protein-rich plant foods?
Legumes, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, and soybeans, are excellent sources of plant protein. They contain all the essential amino acids, as well as being rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. To take better advantage of the protein in legumes, it is important to combine them with cereals, such as rice and corn, which complement the amount of amino acids.
Quinoa is a grain originating in the Andes that has gained popularity worldwide due to its high protein content and other important nutrients such as iron and calcium. It contains all the essential amino acids and is a great option for vegetarians looking for a complete source of protein.
Tofu and tempeh
Tofu and tempeh are products made from soy and are widely used in vegetarian and vegan recipes. They are rich in protein, as well as being sources of calcium and iron. Tofu is a softer, more neutral product, while tempeh has a stronger flavor and firm texture.
Nuts, such as nuts, walnuts and almonds, are good sources of vegetable protein and also healthy fats. They can be consumed as snacks or added to salads and miscellaneous recipes. However, it is important to remember that oilseeds are caloric and should be consumed in moderation.
Dairy products and eggs
If you are lacto-ovo-vegetarian, that is, you consume eggs and dairy products, these are also good sources of protein. Eggs are one of the sources of animal protein is complete and has essential amino acids. In addition, eggs are rich in vitamins and minerals. In addition, dairy products such as cheese, yogurt and milk are also an option. Since they are rich in high-quality protein and contain calcium, it is important for bone health.
How to include vegetable protein in the diet?
To include plant protein in the diet, it is important to vary protein sources and combine them strategically. Some tips include:
- Combine legumes such as beans, lentils, peas, with cereals, such as rice, corn or quinoa, to get all the essential amino acids;
- Use tofu and tempeh in recipes that normally use meat;
- Add nuts to salads, yogurts or smoothies;
In addition, it is important to remember that the amount of protein needed varies according to the weight, age and level of physical activity of each individual. Therefore, it is important to consult a nutritionist to adapt the diet to individual needs.
Although many believe that it is difficult to get enough protein through a vegetarian diet, there are several sources of vegetable protein that can be included in the diet in a healthy and balanced way. Combining legumes with cereals, using tofu and tempeh in recipes and including nuts are some options to ensure adequate protein intake. Always remembering to consult a nutritionist for a personalized diet and appropriate to individual needs.
A professional who conducts the vegetarian diet needs to be aware of the role of proteins in food, since many plant-based foods do not contain all the essential amino acids that the human body needs. It is important that the professional guides his vegetarian patients to choose foods rich in protein, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, almonds, nuts and seeds. In addition, the professional should evaluate the adequacy of protein intake according to the individual needs of each patient, considering factors such as age, gender, level of physical activity and nutritional goals. In this way, the professional can help their patients get a balanced and healthy vegetarian diet, ensuring adequate intake of protein and other essential nutrients.
Watch the video on Science Play with Felipe Testoni:
Vegetable proteins and bodybuilding
Protein in vegetarian diets
– Mariotti F, Gardner CD. Dietary Protein and Amino Acids in Vegetarian Diets-A Review. Nutrients. 2019;11(11):2661. Published 2019 Nov 4. doi:10.3390/nu11112661