Though the American culture is not a traditionally vegetarian culture, this way of life is starting to gain momentum amongst young Americans looking for ways to help the environment while better managing their weight and overall physical health.
The extend to which Americans practice vegetarianism varies greatly. There are those who follow a strict vegetarian diet which consists of consuming nothing but fruits, vegetables and grains. Other vegetarians, known as Lacto-Ovo vegetarians, choose to also include dairy products and eggs into their diet.
Though eating a meat-free diet has tremendous health benefits vegetarianism can lead to insufficient protein intake, and loss of lean muscle mass, if vegetarians fail to identify and include rich sources of protein into their diet.
The following is a list of high protein, vegetarian ingredients perfect for helping you reap all the benefits of a vegetarian diet while building and maintaining lean muscle mass.
Unsweetened Soy Milk
Start your morning off right: substitute soy milk for whole milk at breakfast. Soy milk is the perfect milk substitute for vegetarians who do not consume dairy products. Soy milk has just as much calcium as dairy milk. It is also full of soy protein and ALA Omega-3s.
Unsweetened soy milk only has 1g of sugar per 1 cup serving. So, by substituting unsweetened soy milk for whole milk in your morning cereal you will increase the amount of protein you consume at breakfast, while decreasing the amount of saturated fat and calories.
Shelled Soy Beans (Edamame)
In east Asia, Edamame has served as a major source of protein for well over two thousand years.
Edamame are shelled soy beans harvested at the peak of their ripeness, just before they have had a chance to harden. Edamame look just like lima beans but have a mild, slightly sweet taste that makes them a highly versatile ingredient. I often mix Edamame into brown rice and serve them together as a side dish. I find that the sweet taste and texture of the Edamame adds to the taste and texture of the rice.
These shelled soy beans can also be gently boiled in salt water and eaten as a snack or side dish. This Edamame guacamole recipe, which was a hit at one of my family picnics this summer, is a prime example of the thousands of ways this high protein ingredient can be incorporated into the vegetarian diet.
To the people of South America, quinoa, a crop closely resembling grain, has been a staple food item for well over six thousand years. In fact, quinoa played such an important role in the lives and cultures of the people of South America that the Incas referred to it as a sacred crop and included it in most of their religious ceremonies. But, quinoa faded into obscurity when the Incas were conquered by the conquistadors and forced to grow corn instead.
Today, we are just starting to once again understand the complex nutritional value of this crop. Recently, quinoa has gained tremendous popularity amongst western vegetarians as a high protein, high fiber substitute for rice. That is because we now understand that quinoa contains a balanced set of amino acids that make it an unusually complete source of protein amongst plant foods.
Tempeh, a staple source of protein in the Vegan diet, is made of soy beans that have undergone a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process. Because of its firm texture, strong mushroom-like flavor and highly digestible protein tempeh is used as a meat substitute in vegetarian and Vegan cuisine.
Tempeh is a tastier alternative to tofu because, unlike tofu, tempeh has a earthy and somewhat savory taste. Plus, you can find many commercially prepared brands of tempeh that have add spices and extra flavors.
Tempeh, which is a naturally cholesterol free food, has around 200 calories and 18.2 grams of protein per serving. Tempeh is also a great source of Iron and calcium.
Tempeh is sold in most health food stores, Asian markets, and natural food aisles of traditional grocery stores.
Though traditional vegetarian cultures such as the Indonesian culture have enjoyed this highly versatile and nutritious protein source for centuries, Tempeh is just starting to work its way into the diets of western vegetarians and Vegans.
Seitan is a high protein, Vegan protein source made of wheat. This high protein, low carbohydrate meat substitute is made by cooking wheat gluten, the protein component in wheat which has been separated from the grain. As far as texture is concerned, seitan has a firm and slightly chewy texture, a lot like beef jerky.
Seitan is a popular meat substitute in many Vegan and vegetarian restaurants because of its close visual resemblance to red meat. Seitan is also the base for many commercially available vegetarian products such as Tofurky deli slices.
Soy Protein Powders
If you are trying to cut calories, in order to reduce your overall body fat percentage, but are still worried about getting adequate amounts of protein, which is essential for building lean muscle mass, than I highly suggest you invest in soy protein supplements.
Best of all, these quick and convenient protein powders come in a variety of flavors and can be mixed with other sources of protein such as soy milk.
Lentils And Other Legumes
Legumes have played a crucial role in the survival of our species and the advancement of our civilizations. Historians conclude that in Asia, the Americas and Europe legumes served as a staple source of protein as early as 6,000 BC. Peas, clover, beans, lentils, lupins, carob, soy and peanuts are just a few examples of the better known legumes.
Traditionally, most vegetarian cultures serve legumes along with other grains. For example, in India it is common to serve lentils with rice. Likewise, in South America beans are served with corn tortillas and in Asia tofu is served with rice.
In the United States, the peanut butter sandwich, made with whole wheat bread, is the most famous method of combining legumes with grains. Besides being a great source of protein, snacking on peanut butter right before a workout can also boost your calorie intake and give you the energy you need to get through your workout.
It is best to eat mushrooms raw. There are hundreds of different edible kinds of mushrooms and they all make a great addition to your salads. If you prefer to cook your mushrooms, be sure to add them last so as not to over-cook them.
For centuries, mushrooms have served as an invaluable source of protein to vegetarian cultures. That is because mushroom protein is superior to many other forms of vegetable protein on account of the fact that between 70% to 90% of the vegetable protein present in various types of mushrooms can be easily digested. The protein content of white cap mushrooms ranks above all other sources of vegetable protein.
Black Bean Spaghetti Noodles
Black bean spaghetti is a high protein pasta made with organic black beans and water instead of flour and eggs like traditional pastas. Despite its name, this pasta does not taste like beans. It tastes a lot like whole grain pasta.
This Vegan, high protein pasta is an Asian ingredient widely available in most Asian food markets. You may also be able to find this pasta in the Asian aisle of your grocery store.
See a black bean spaghetti nutrition label HERE
Health Tips For Vegetarians
Fruits and Vegetables
Though, consuming sufficient levels of protein is important in building and maintaining lean muscle mass it is also important that you not neglect to include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Besides being the pillars of a healthy vegetarian diet, fruits and vegetables are also an important source of high quality carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants for your body.
Beware of Iron Deficiency
Iron deficiency is a widespread health problem amongst vegetarians, especially pre-menopausal vegetarian women. This is because such non-vegetarian food items as beef liver, chicken liver, salmon, cod, pork, tuna and dark turkey meat are our body’s primary sources of dietary Iron.
If left untreated Iron deficiency can lead to such health problems as:
- Impaired Immune System
- Abdominal Pain
- Rapid Heart Beat
- Low Blood pressure
- Shortness of Breath
Furthermore, anemia, caused by Iron deficiency, can lead to extreme fatigue and brittle hair and nails as well as make your skin appear pale and blotchy.
Vegetarians can get a fair amount of dietary Iron from such food sources as broccoli, spinach, dates and beans. But, in order to ensure your body receives adequate levels of Iron it is important to supplement your daily Iron intake.
Supplement Your Calcium and Vitamin D Intake
Consuming sufficient levels of calcium and vitamin D is crucial to preventing osteoporosis. However, sufficient calcium and vitamin D intake is a challenge for vegetarians, especially non- Lacto-Ovo vegetarians, meaning those vegetarians who consume no dairy products such as milk, cheese or yogurt. Therefore, it is also important that vegetarians, especially vegetarian women, find a daily multivitamin that supplies them with their daily recommended value of calcium and vitamin D.