What? You’re a vegetarian? Where do you get your protein?
I’ve only been asked this question a hundred times by every person that finds out I am a vegetarian. People are completely bewildered by the fact that my body can sustain itself on a plant-based diet.
This is deeply concerning.
Meat Consumption Statistics
It’s easy to understand their concern when you take a look at the statistics behind the average American’s yearly meat consumption. For better understanding, I compiled a chart displaying meat consumption (red meat and poultry) among various countries at different time periods. All data is from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Statistics Division.
In 2011, the average American consumed 259.29 POUNDS of meat per person per year. That is excluding fish and other seafood! Compare that number to the world’s average meat consumption of 92.37 lbs of meat per person per year. It’s no wonder everyone thinks meat is the only source of protein! So many Americans, myself included, have grown up eating meat at almost every meal. This is not only unhealthy for our own mind and body; it has an extremely negative impact on lower-level meat industry employees, along with a vast contribution to environmental damage and animal cruelty.
Here’s an interactive chart by ChartsBin that uses the same source (FAO) for information, but provides all worldwide data for 2011. Note: Data is displayed in kilograms per person per year.
Meatless Protein Sources
I’ve compiled an excellent list of meatless protein sources to educate those looking to find healthy alternatives. The infographic below lists the USDA MyPlate daily protein intake recommendations for a sedentary person.
Meatless equivalents that equal 1 oz towards your daily protein intake
Source: USDA MyPlate
- 1/2 ounce of nuts
- 7 cashews
- 7 walnut halves
- 12 almonds
- 24 pistachios
- 1/2 ounce of seeds
- pumpkin seeds
- sunflower seeds
- squash seeds
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter or almond butter
- 1/4 cup of cooked beans
- 1/4 cup of cooked peas
- split peas
- 1/4 cup or 2 oz of tofu
- 1 oz tempeh
- 1/4 cup roasted soybeans
- 2 tablespoons hummus
- 1 egg (for lacto-ovo vegetarians)
Another way to look at protein
The USDA Dietary Reference Intake recommends 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound.
- 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man.
- 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.
Take a look at the wide variety of plant-based, meatless protein sources in the chart below! I ONLY picked 65 food items out of a HUGE list displayed in the USDA National Nutrient Database.
Protein is rarely an issue for the healthy eater. If you are a vegetarian who binges on junk food and bread, you might have a problem; but the problem would be far more than just a protein deficiency.
Sample meals, commonly served at my house
Breakfast: 1 cup oats, half banana, chia seeds, flaxseeds, almond milk + orange juice or water
Lunch: grilled cheese, broccoli, mango + water
Dinner: whole wheat tacos with black beans, brown rice, refried beans, taco seasoning, leafy greens (spinach, chard, baby kale, etc), onions, hot sauce + water or juice
Snacks: peanut butter with celery or bread, chips & salsa
There’s no question that I reach my daily intake of protein. If anyone is concerned, please don’t cause yourself unnecessary stress.
BTW- Healthy food tastes amazing. Don’t be fooled by the pressure of junk food and fast food advertisements blaring in your face, urging you to buy. Your body craves it like a drug and then immediately regrets it after you stuff your face. We all know it’s true. The more I cut out junk food and dairy, the more my taste buds approve of “real food” that actually nourishes my body. For instance, I’ve hated oatmeal my entire life, but now I add a banana and some vanilla almond milk and it tastes extremely satisfying and delicious – no sugar added! Crazy!