Are You Vegetarian? How Do You Get Enough Protein?

If only I had a nickel each time I was asked this question! Well, I am vegetarian, and my meals are balanced and healthy. I have not been diagnosed with deficiencies or malnourishment yet. On the other hand, I feel light and healthy, eat 25% less fat (than meat eaters) on an average, and save significantly on grocery costs.

The main sources of protein for vegetarians are legumes, nuts, whole grain and dairy products. The protein content in these foods per serving portion is in fact comparable to that in meats, fish and poultry. For example, broad beans and fava beans have approximately 26.12 grams (gm) of protein per 100 gm, while salmon and some other fish have only 25.72 gm / 100 gm. Soy based products have 36.49 gm of protein per 100 gm and pork and ham have 30.94 gm / 100 gm. The vegetarian foods mentioned above are significantly higher in fiber and lower in cholesterol, all of which bumps up their overall nutritive value. A more detailed break up of individual nutritional value is provided in the USDA Nutrient guide website. In addition, almost all whole foods are rich in protein, and are great sources of essential minerals like potassium, iron, magnesium and zinc; making them a well rounded and healthier option.

VegetablesOf late, there has been a renewed interest in the vegetarian lifestyle, which includes exclusively fruits, vegetables, grains, cereal and legumes and soy products. The benefits of an exclusively vegetarian diet includes lower risk of cancer, lower overall Body Mass Index, lower risk for diabetes and heart disease. A recent study by Fu and associates suggested that vegetarians had statistically significant lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and lower serum total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting blood sugar, and hemoglobin levels compared with the non-vegetarians.

Being vegetarian is also better for the environment as a decrease in the demand for beef and poultry will eventually lead to fewer meat farms. Lower number of cattle and poultry reared will mean decreased depletion of grasslands and fields, which will ultimately free up more pastures for production of food for humans. There are increasing vegetarian options available at the market and in restaurants. Numerous recipes are also available and it is easy to modify some of the existing meat recipes to make it vegetarian. Ethnic cuisines like Thai, Indian and Chinese are especially easier to adapt to suit a vegetarian. If this is an option you were contemplating, I suggest that you give Vegetarianism a fair shot and observe how your body and mind feel after a sustained period of this lifestyle.


C FU, C YANG, C LIN, T KUO (2006). Effects of Long-Term Vegetarian Diets on Cardiovascular Autonomic Functions in Healthy Postmenopausal Women The American Journal of Cardiology, 97 (3), 380-383 DOI: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2005.08.057

Liliane Chatenoud, Alessandra Tavani, Carlo La Vecchia, David R. Jacobs, Eva Negri, Fabio Levi, Silvia Franceschi (1998). Whole grain food intake and cancer risk International Journal of Cancer, 77 (1), 24-28 DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1097-0215(19980703)77:13.3.CO;2-0

  • Pam

    Animal protein is harmful to health and vegetarians get more than enough plant protein in the foods they eat. I highly recommend “The China Study” by Dr. Colin Campbell.

    Dr. Campbell, the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, says:

    “In this project…I uncovered a dark secret. Children who ate the highest protein diets were the ones most likely to get liver cancer…”

    Although it was “heretical to say that protein wasn’t healthy,” he started an in-depth study into the role of nutrition, especially protein, in the cause of cancer.

    The research project culminated in a 20-year partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, a survey of diseases and lifestyle factors…that eventually produced more than 8000 statistically significant associations between various dietary factors and disease.”

    The findings? “People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease … People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. These results could not be ignored,” said Dr. Campbell.

  • I think vegetarian is a great diet.

    A couple of cautions. Don’t pig out on tofu – it can have bad effects on the thyroid.

    Women, especially, need enough iron. Some I have known have found that only red meat does the trick (and they were committed vegans).

    • jose

      no… liar

  • Camilo

    Too much protein as in the average American diet also taxes the kidneys and can cause calcium to leech out of bones.

  • lalitha

    Cool.Wish more people would follow a vegetarian diet.Meat production contrbutes heavily to global greenhouse emissions.This is because of the way in which land is cleared for producing food for the live stock.Emission of methane from livestock contibutes more to greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide


    In the beginning GOD recommended a pure vegetarian diet for humans, i.e vetetables, fruits, grains and nuts. Of course God did that for a reason, He is our Creator and HE knows what is best for us. Meat takes a longer time in the stomach than all the other food, giving our digestive system a hard time by working over time while we need to rest all our body organs at least 8-hours a day. Lets keep on conviencing people how good a veterian diet is.

  • Narsu. Narasimhan

    Very convincing article .For the die-hard non-vegetarians , many commercially developed textured proteins made out of vegetables/ tofu are available. After a long gap , i recently tasted a veggie burger and if i was not told , i would have assumed it to be chicken!
    In any case better to avoid beef as i am told that most of the cows are fed on meat?

  • shankar( aps)

    The article by Nirupama makes interesting reading. We have been getting frightening information about bird flu, about how the cattle and other animals are injected with dangerous hormones to make them fatter and the meat thicker. There is a misconceived notion that the vegeterianism doesnt give you mighty strength. Its wrong . The strongest animals such as the elephant, hippo are herbivorous. May be a bulky medal winning Sumo wrestler would think that the killed animals give him all the strength. There is absolutely no substitute for vegetarian food to lead an intelligent and healthy life.

  • Nirupama Shankar

    Thank you all for your comments. Yes, I have also read articles that advise on the ill-effects of too much protein consumption; and the overload caused by this on the liver and kidneys. I believe the recommended daily requirement is approximately 1 gm of protein per K gm of body weight. I agree also that artificially generated protein is not as healthy as protein from completely natural sources.

  • Pingback: SmarterFitter Blog » Blog Archive » SmarterFitter Favorites: Vegetarian Edition()

  • tran

    you people go ahead and eat your carrots, more meat for me. 🙂

  • tran

    I belong to the PETA group, People eat tasty animals. 🙂

  • tran

    “Being vegetarian is also better for the environment” I am sure it is, how about you people start living in caves and not wear cloths, that will surely save the environment. I in the mean time will continue to enjoy living in a big house and have my wife drive a big Mercedes SUV.

  • tiffany

    tran, how old are you, 12?

  • We’ve been non meat eaters now for over 10 years. I use the term advisedly, as we still eat fish occasionally. Our diet is varied and interesting, and for the most part no other living creature had to die for us to eat well.

  • tran

    I don’t have an issue with people being vegetarian, it is a personal choice and i respect that. The reason why i was being silly is because the of the last paragraph. Lately the environment became the buzz word and i think people are abusing it. Don’t get me wrong, i am all for saving the environment, but not at the expense of people. Meaning love people more than trees, animals or things which is something people on the left in this country do not get.

  • fnx3

    I was a lacto/ovo vegetarian for over 20 years until I started suffering extreme fatigue 18 months ago. After heaps of tests it was finally found that I was deficient in magnesium & Iodine & had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. When extreme muscle pain & spasms was added onto the extreme fatigue it was found I also had Fibromyalgia.

    Long term vegetarians are often found to be deficient in both Magnesium & Iodine. And people with CFS &/or Fibromyalgia are also often found to be deficient in both magnsium & Iodine too. I may have been going to get one or the other of these conditions BUT by being vegetarian for so long I certainly guaranteed that I did. My body had been stripping magnesium out of my muscles for years & my thyroid had become hyperactive. Out of concern for other bodies I had deprived my own.

    Sure anyone can be a vegetarian when they are young just beware the consequences as you grow older.

  • MV

    fnx3, I’m sorry to hear about your condition, but I am puzzled. The best sources of magnesium are plant foods, particularly green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, bananas, and a variety of herbs. The best sources of iodine are table salt and sea weed. Studies have consistently shown that vegetarians get more magnesium in their diets than meat eaters because magnesium is prevalent in plant foods. It is, thus, highly unlikely that your deficiency is the result of a vegetarian diet. If anything, a vegetarian diet is recommended for people suffering from magnesium deficiency. It is also highly beneficial for persons over 50 because it reduces the risk of a host of degenerative diseases, most importantly heart disease.

    I tried to post this with links to various studies, but my post was not published. I assume this blog frowns upon external links (which is understandable) so, I can only give you the names of a couple of articles/studies, instead of links, if you are interested in more information:

    “Dietary habits and mortality in 11 000 vegetarians and health conscious people: results of a 17 year follow up”, BMJ 1996;313:775-779 (28 September)

    “Health benefits of a vegetarian diet” – Proc Nutr Soc. 1999 May;58(2):271-5, which concludes: “The evidence available suggests that widespread adoption of a vegetarian diet could prevent approximately 40,000 deaths from IHD in Britain each year.”

    “Trace Elements in Man and Animals–9: Proceedings of the Ninth International Symposium on Trace Elements on Man and Animals”, By Peter Wilhelm Fritz Fischer, National Research Council Canada
    Published by NRC Research Press, 1997. See page 181 which states that upon collecting the data from studies on magnesium intake and retention of vegetarian and meat eating persons it was found that the “vegetarian diet has a significantly higher magnesium content (45%)” than adults with mixed diets.

    It’s unfortunate that our doctors know so little about nutrition (I assume that’s who told you your diet was the reason for your deficiencies).

    “Nutrition counseling–should physicians guide their patients?” – Am J Prev Med. 1994 Sep-Oct;10(5):308-11 concludes:

    “This article summarizes the findings of a study initiative under-taken by the U.S. Public Health Service to examine its own role in fostering a more effective education of U.S. physicians in nutrition. The study was completed in response to a congressional request that the federal government examine the need for a more productive government role in this important area. The literature, dating back to the turn of the century, is relatively uniform in its conclusions that U.S. physicians are woefully under-trained in nutrition. The training inadequacy might be dismissed, indeed, has been dismissed by many programs, yet the role of nutrition in promoting health becomes clearer with each passing year. We ask: Will either the government or the medical education community begin to equip our physicians with the knowledge needed to bring nutrition into play as an active therapeutic approach to complement other therapies? ”

    Apologies for the length of this post.

  • fnx3

    Hi MV – I appreciate yr lengthy reply – thanks!

    Well, I found an article that described how a vegetarian diet is so high in plant fibre that even though it contains a good amount of magnesium, it is swept too quickly through the gut, before it can be adequately absorbed into the body & especially if your gut is already weak as in IBS (which can be a major symptom of Fibromyalgia). And where I live our soils are naturally deficient in Iodine so the plants are too – hence low Iodine intake. I did have a link for this article but I can’t find it right now.

  • ram

    my latest response to the question of “where do you get your… Protein, carbohydrates” etc. is: “I learn about Nutrition”.

    I am amazed at how few people actually understand the basics of nutrition (myself included). I have recently switched to a raw vegan diet and am finding it extremely beneficial. My only problem is that i am now having to learn about the foods i put in my body to make sure that i get the right levels of nutrients across the board.

  • I am not a vegetarian in the truest sense of the word since I sometimes eat fish and eggs. I have restricted my diet to not consuming animal meat (apart from fish as I said) for more than 20 years now. I wish I could be a true vegetarian but somehow I found this task hard to achieve, and now reading the comments about long term vegetarians who suffer from deficiencies… well, one should be careful in the least.

  • fnx3

    Hi again … mmmm, just thought I would update you as to how I am going now re “eating meat or not”.

    Since starting on a drug, Cymbalta, that had recently been approved for the treatment of Fibromyalgia my health has just about been totally restored – which is fantastic!

    Plus I was also referred to a dietitian. She assured me that there had been no studies to show that a long term lacto/ovo vegetarian diet could cause nutritional deficiencies. I was soooo relieved. It would appear that in my desperate search for remedies to my rapidly declining health that I had cobbled together bits & pieces of information for all over the place (mainly the internet!). I have now learnt to only trust actual evidence-based info.

    I would always rather source my food from less exploitative sources. The massive global demand for fish is one example of such a selfish consumption. Wild fish stocks around the world are being depleted faster than they can reproduce.

  • Hi fnx3,
    Thanks for reminding me about the depleted fish stocks around the world. I must say that you are totally right when pointing this issue out, and I agree that this is a huge problem. And yes, the solution would be if more and more people could change their sources of food, and thereby hopefully the high demand for see food can be reduced.

  • fnx3

    Oh, I was just reminded of the original topic of this blog thread “how do you get enough protein as a vego” – well, I have just found a really cheap yet pure way of adding some extra protein to yr everyday diet – whey powder – just one heaped tablespoonful added to 200mls of water, contains 12.5 grams of protein.

  • Lawson

    I don’t think that it is very appropriate for people who eat meat to condone vegetarians. I myself eat both meat and vegatables but i don’t support or condone vegetarians. It’s a personal choice as is everything else in this world. To say that it is “evil, and stupid” to try and save the environment is a statement out of pure ignorance. I think that it is healthy and great to be a vegetarian but that lifestyle is just not for me.

  • MV

    Lawson, you don’t have to be a vegetarian to “support and condone” the lifestyle. I’m not gay, but I support gay rights. I’m not a minority, but I stand against racism. I’m not sure what to make of your use of the word “condone”. To condone something means to accept or forgive something bad. I don’t get the sense, from your post, that you think vegetarianism is bad, so, I’m not sure why condoning it would even enter the picture.

  • fnx3

    Woopsy! i have got to make a correction – I said that one tablespoon of pure whey powder would give 12.5 grams of protein – WRONG! – it actually gives you 2.6 grams of protein.

    Sorry – the Fibromyalgia Brain Fog is creeping back up on me (drug is wearing off – phooey : ()

  • I am a vegetarian too and also have heard this question many times. I always say it’s best to eat what you really like, that gets the juices going … 🙂 Soy does not taste good in my humble opinion, but it also causes hormone imbalance and it is severely genetically modified, so you may rethink that one …

    • jacky jack

      Really I don’t understand about this so I teel you contact a doctor..

  • Pingback: Are You Vegetarian? How Do You Get Enough Protein?()

  • Well I truly liked reading it. This post procured by you is very effective for good planning.

Nirupama Shankar, PT, MHS

Nirupama Shankar, PT, MHS, is a physical therapist by profession, and has over 7 years of clinical experience in the field of neurological rehabilitation. She has treated individuals with stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and amputations. She has also completed training modules and community education projects in Michigan and North Carolina.

See All Posts By The Author

Do not miss out ever again. Subscribe to get our newsletter delivered to your inbox a few times a month.