A vegetarian diet high in protein is my new goal. Avoiding downpours of disapproval for my (almost pure) vegetarianism and all the deficiencies that the diet would cause, is also a target. I need to debunk the myth according to which a vegetarian diet is deficient in protein and would weaken my body.
I need to prove the world I can make it without pork, beef and chicken. Yes, prove it to The WORLD.
Or, to increase my odds of success, just to my mum, so that she can stop putting a pork-stuffed sandwich in my luggage whenever I leave Italy to go back to London. Argh.
So here I am in the kitchen willing to count the grams of protein, trying to pull together a fulfilling meal without jeopardizing the taste. According to classic studies, on average, I need 30-50 grams of protein per day (while men require 50-70 grams per day), the exact amount depending on the weight. Where can I get proteins from if I give up on meat? My new strategy is simple and can be broken down in 4 points:
1) I will replace pasta and rice with whole grains. The idea is to make room for foods containing a wider variety of nutrients whereas pasta and bread mostly contain only carbs. Black rice, amaranth, barley, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, spelt and oats provide the greatest opportunity to acquire carbs packaged with protein. Amaranth, for example, is the only grain documented to contain Vitamin C and with 14 grams of protein per 100 grams, it provides more protein than wheat.
2) I will make my plant-based diet more complete. Research has shown that at least 14% of the total calories of every plant are protein. “Broccoli contains more protein per calorie than steak and, per calorie, spinach is about equal to chicken and fish”. Beans (27% protein) lentils (36%), chickpeas (33%) and peas (30%) also contain micronutrients together with protein. I will add more beans and legumes to salads, stews and soups and complete my meal with greens such as spinach, kale, swiss chard and broccoli. More Healthy Lentils and Amaranth Stew from now on.
3) I will consume more foods rich in soy protein such as Edamame, Soymilk (I regularly use it in my breakfast with oats and smoothies), Tofu and Whole soybeans. Soy is a high-quality protein source, one of the few plant-based complete proteins since it contains essential amino-acids too. Good to know: I can set an upper daily limit of 25 grams of soy.
4) I will eat more nuts and seeds. Here you find a great overview of the protein content of nuts and seeds. Greek yogurt, which has a higher protein content compared to the normal yogurt, with its creamy texture and velvety taste contrasts perfectly the crunchiness of seeds and nuts. My perfect snack? Greek yogurt with almonds and pumpkin seeds.
My new food strategy is all in these few points and I believe a calorie counter will not be necessary as long as I stick with such a diversified diet. It’s going to be great if I am be able to adopt it without missing my beloved pasta too much :).
What do you think about it? Any tips on how to plan a vegetarian diet and get more protein?
Lentils and Amaranth
- 2 carrots sliced
- 1 red pepper diced
- 1 garlic cloves minced
- 1/2 cup lentils
- 1 cup amaranth
- 4-6 cups water or vegetable broth
- 4-5 Tablespoons olive oil
- salt pepper and shopped spring onion to taste
- In a large pot, toast the amaranth for approximately 4 to 5 minutes on medium high heat. Put all the other ingredients except the diced pepper. Add 2 cups of water.
- Bring to boil, and let simmer for about 40 mins. Add more water when the stew becomes too dry.
- Stir occasionally to prevent from sticking to the bottom. Stir in the pepper and cook for about 10 minutes more.