When I was in high school, I was a vegetarian for a few months.
I wish I could tell you it was because I was moved after watching a documentary about what goes on in slaughterhouses, but unfortunately, that’s not the case…
I adopted a vegetarian diet because I’d read that it’s healthier and I wanted to lose weight.
I lasted for several months–and definitely cheated throughout! I think I struggled for many reasons, not least of which was the fact that I did it for all the wrong reasons.
I also think that because I bought into the idea that vegetarianism is “healthy,” the licensing effect came into play, i.e. I felt justified in eating more because I was being “virtuous” by adopting a healthy diet.
Not to mention the fact that this diet was protein-deficient. I never bothered to research how to replace the huge hole in my diet left by the meat I was no longer eating, and as a result, I relied too much on carbs and dietary fat.
A balanced diet this was not, which is a mistake I think a lot of people make when they decide to stop eating meat.
This is not to say that vegetarian diets are inherently unhealthy or even protein-deficient: rather, this was my personal experience, and why I believe that so many of my vegetarian clients and friends struggle so much with weight loss.
A recent conversation reminded me of my brief stint as a vegetarian, and got me thinking:
If I were to do that again, how would I make sure I was getting enough protein?
So I put together this list of protein sources that I would use myself, and that I recommend to my vegetarian clients or really anyone who wants to eat less meat:
Eggs are an obvious choice, but they’re packed with vitamins and minerals that we all need in our diet.
They’re relatively high in fat relative to protein, but they’re one of the easiest and least-expensive protein options for vegetarians.
[Quick tip: don’t stress if you can’t afford organic eggs. I once read that chickens have a super-efficient internal “cleansing” system that blocks most toxins and potentially-harmful substances from reaching their offspring (aka eggs). It’s some kind of brilliant survival adaptation! After I read that, I didn’t worry so much about free-range and organic and all that jazz!]
Plain, liquid egg whites add a protein punch to smoothies, protein shakes, baked goods, you name it!
I like making egg white “wraps” for breakfast, and I’ll make them ahead of time to grab in the morning.
They’re also a very low-calorie protein source–they contain minimal fat and carbs.
A lot of people are fearful of tofu because it contains soy.
Soy is not something that you want to consume in large doses, but it’s definitely OK once in a while.
I encourage folks to buy an organic brand in this case because at least you have the reassurance that the soy isn’t also layered with chemicals and pesticides!
I like to use tofu in stir fry, as a base for baked goods, and in smoothies on occasion!
Plant-based protein bars
If you’re just staying away from meat, you may have no problem eating whey protein or any other protein that has trace animal products in it.
But if you’re avoiding it or just don’t like it, there are some great vegan protein bar options that I love, including
- Pro Bar
- Orgain, and
- VegaSport (but only the mint ones!)
I also made these protein bars from scratch the other day:
- 1/2 c BodyLogix Natural Whey Vanilla Bean protein powder
- 5 tbsp. Bob’s Red Mill coconut flour
- 1/4 c unsweetened original cashew milk
For the topping, I melted 1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips and 2 tbsp creamy natural peanut butter. Makes 6 square bars.
I pressed the protein mixture into a rectangular glass container to set and poured the chocolate on top. I left them in the fridge to harden, and they are delish (albeit a little soft–freezing them would be perfect!)
(Rough) macros per bar: 25 p/13 c/7 f
Vegan protein powder
Again, vegetarians may or may not be concerned about whether or not their protein powders contain animal products, but if you are, here a couple of my favorite vegan options:
- Garden of Life
- Naked Nutrition Rice and Pea powders
Oh, how I love cottage cheese!
My favorite is whole fat ’cause it’s so creamy, but low-fat (1%) is a worthy substitute!
It’s very low calories by volume, which means you can eat a whole lot without consuming a ton of calories.
It’s full of protein, so it’s a great way to stay fuller, longer.
It’s also versatile: you can make it sweet or savory!
I sometimes mix cooked egg whites into my cottage cheese with some sprinkle Parmesan for a savory breakfast; or mix in fresh berries and add a swirl of honey or maple syrup and cinnamon for a sweet treat! The possibilities are endless!
I can’t decide which I like better–cottage cheese or Greek yogurt! Good thing I don’t have to decide! Greek yogurt is endlessly versatile, too.
It can be sweet or savory, and it’s a great, high-protein substitute for sour cream in many recipes!