When I was 12 I used to say, “I’m not a vegetarian, I just don’t eat meat.” I’ve never been a big fan of labels, but 15 years later, I think it’s safe to call myself a vegetarian. I am a lacto-ovo vegetarian, meaning I eat dairy and eggs, but do not eat fish, poultry, or other meat. Lately, I’ve suspected dairy intolerance and have all but cut dairy out of my diet. So now I guess I’m just an ovo vegetarian. Or an egg-eating vegan? Like I said- I’m no good with labels.
One of the most frequent questions I receive about my diet is related to protein intake. And it’s a legitimate one too; plant-based protein sources are robust, but less obvious than their animal-based counterparts. Admittedly, people who don’t eat meat need to put a little more effort into ensuring they receive adequate protein.
Last week, I tracked my diet for a few days with SparkPeople and was surprised to discover that I was consistently just shy of their suggested protein minimum (60g/day). I think that by decreasing my dairy intake, my protein took a hit (Greek yogurt=yum!). To remedy the situation, I’ve started enjoying a protein shake each morning to get a quick 20g in right off the bat. I’ve tried hemp protein and Plant Fusion. To be honest, I’m not crazy about either (“enjoying” might be an overstatement…), but I can make them palatable and it’s worth the effort.
Still, supplements are just that: supplemental. Here is a list of my 10 favorite lacto-ovo vegetarian sources that I have (at least at some point) incorporated into my diet:
1. Eggs: True, many vegetarians do not eat eggs, but I do! So versatile, low in calories, and delicious. High in cholesterol, which is actually a welcome addition to my low cholesterol diet.
2. Beans and Legumes: Black beans, red beans, garbanzos, oh my! On salads, in tacos, chilli, stew… so many beans, so little time! Just rinse them first. This also includes lentils, my fav.
3. Quinoa: It’s actually a seed, but it cooks like rice. Best. Grain. Ever.
4. Tofu: Great in stir-fry, okay in everything else. Despite at least a weekly tofu dish, I’ve never figured out how to make it less squishy. Baking it is the best so far.
5. Tempeh: Another soy product, but so much firmer than tofu. Even my carnivore husband loves this one!
6. Greek Yogurt: Equivalent to yum, as stated before. Alone, with fruit, in smoothies, as dip, frozen around grapes. Close your eyes, and you’re eating ice cream. Sort of.
7. Garbanzo Flour: I’ve used this a few times with good success: once in a lentil loaf and once to coat tofu before frying. Seems like a good choice to boost protein in homemade dishes.
9. Edamame: Buy a big bag of these soy beans frozen, and enjoy the perfect snack.
10. Nuts: Whole or in butter form, it’s all good.
So, no, I don’t just eat lettuce and, no, I don’t love every vegetable. But, yes, I do have many protein sources! And with some planning and occasional supplementation, they can add up to a pretty healthy diet. Of course this is not an extensive list. I would love to hear which vegetarian protein sources you use and how you prepare them. My diet, like the rest of me, is always a work in progress!