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

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.
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