Where Vegetarians Get Their Protein

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bizarro comic about proteinCertainly one of the most delightful things about being a vegetarian is having everyone ask you "but where do you get your protein??" 


Implicit in this question is the belief that protein comes primarily, or even exclusively from meat. It doesn't.


Meat does contain a lot of protein, but in completely comparable amounts to lentils, tofu, seitan, tempeh, beans, quinoa, spinach and broccoli. 


How much protein does a person need? 


Multiply your body weight in pounds x 0.36 grams, or 0.013 ounces. (for kilograms, see below)


For example, someone weighing 150 lbs. will need 54 g of protein per day. Someone at 110 lbs. will need 40 g. Someone at 185 lbs. will need 67 g. 


That translates to:


40g = half a cup of tofu, a cup of black beans, a cup of broccoli


54g = what's above, and add a cup of soy milk and half a cup of edamame


67g = and add half a cup of cooked spinach, half a cup of quinoa and two tablespoons of nut butter


(Protein needs will increase for pregnant women and athletes, and especially for pregnant athletes)


The belief that various plant foods have to be eaten together in order to get their protein ("combining proteins") is a myth. A diet containing a variety of grains, legumes and vegetables will easily meet your protein needs. 


protein content of broccoli vs steakWhy is it better to get your protein from plant sources than animal?

-less saturated fat

-lower risk of heart disease

-easier on your kidneys (high protein intake is largely responsible for kidney stones - a friend of mine who had testicular cancer and kidney stones in succession said that if he had to have one of them again, he'd choose testicular cancer)

-grilling and frying meats produces carcinogenic compounds: "hereorcyclic amines," linked to colon and breast cancer

-lower risk of osteoporosis


My source for all of this is a pamphlet published by Earthsave Canada, written by Carolyn Victoria Mill. Check out Earthsave's website for more information, as well as references and recipes. Also check out the site for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine






Multiply your body weight in kilograms by 0.8 to get your daily protein needs in grams.

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  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Wednesday, 14 November 2012 20:00 posted by Matthew Lewis

    The connection between saturated fat and heart disease seems to be unclear. Michael Pollan wrote in his book In Defense of Food, "The amount of saturated fat in the diet probably may have little if any bearing on the risk of heart disease, and evidence that increasing polyunsaturated fats in the diet will reduce risk is slim to nil."

    There's a line of thinking that the low fat nutrition recommendations are based on incomplete science and should be reviewed. More is found here, http://nusi.org/

  • Comment Link Ajay Friday, 16 November 2012 19:12 posted by Ajay

    This is just one person's opinion but my acupuncturist told me that the advantage of eating meat-based protein is that it fills you up longer (he also used a more technical word for why that is).

    Anyway, in my experience it does appear to be true. He also added that everyone is different, which I would also agree.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Monday, 19 November 2012 22:52 posted by TJ Dawe

    Matt - thanks for that link. I'm glad this organization exists. Research unfettered by ideology (as much as that's possible) is valuable for everyone.

    I read In Defense of Food, but don't remember that point. But I don't know that I've ever read a dietary recommendation so beautifully succinct as "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

    In a collection of screenwriter, director and foodie Nora Ephron's writings, she says: "Let me explain this: you can eat all sorts of things that are high in dietary cholesterol (like lobster and avocado and eggs) and they have NO EFFECT WHATSOEVER on your cholesterol count. NONE. WHATSOEVER. DID YOU HEAR ME? I'm sorry to have to resort to capital letters, but what is wrong with you people?" Unfortunately, she doesn't give a source for this information. But it's always interesting with a piece of "common knowledge" about nutrition - or anything - turns out not to stand up to the research.

    Ajay - Everyone is indeed different, a point that comes up in In Defense of Food. Dietary science often focuses on the value or presence or absence of a given nutrient, without taking into context the nutrient's relation to the food, the food's relation to the person's diet, and the person's diet's relation to the society they live in. Furthermore, people metabolize foods at different rates, as anyone trying to lose weight notices with frustration.

    Meat did fill me up, and a little too well at that. I initially gave up beef because I found myself getting sluggish a while after eating it, and sinking into an inadvertent nap. I still like the smell of cooking meat, but I don't miss the lethargy.

  • Comment Link Mary Lewis Wednesday, 05 December 2012 05:52 posted by Mary Lewis

    In the spirit of your TED Manitoba talk, i offer this to you. Don't glance; don't skim. Spend some time with it.


    Keep on, keeping on!

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Wednesday, 05 December 2012 18:50 posted by TJ Dawe

    This looks like an excellent site. I fully intend to swim deeply in it. Already I'm eager to get the nutritional low down on one of my favourite foods: cranberries.


    Thank you.

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