There probably isn't a vegetarian on the planet who hasn't been asked "Are you getting enough protein?" While the amount is important — women need, on average, about 45 to 65 grams of protein a day — so is the type.
If you take a trip back to your old science class, you might remember that protein is made up of smaller components called amino acids, 12 of which are manufactured by the human body. Another nine, called essential amino acids, must be obtained from food. A complete protein is a protein that contains all of the essential amino acids. Animal proteins are complete, including red meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy, so what's a vegetarian or vegan to do? There are a few nonanimal sources that offer complete proteins, so it's important to get your fill of soybeans, blue green algae, hempseed, buckwheat, and quinoa if you're diet is meat-, milk-, or egg-free.
Then there are foods known as incomplete proteins, including beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, peas, and corn. Combine two or more incomplete proteins and boom — you've got a complete protein. Enjoy them together in one meal or the combination can be consumed over the same day, such as black bean soup for lunch and brown rice with dinner. Here are some other food combinations that work:
- Beans with whole grains: hummus (contains chickpeas and tahini, which is made from sesame seeds) and pita bread, red beans and rice, chickpea and quinoa veggie burgers on a whole-wheat bun, split pea soup with whole-grain bread, lentil barley soup, black beans and polenta, and tortillas with refried beans
- Nuts or seeds with whole grains: sunflower seed butter on crackers, almond butter on toast, peanut noodles
- Beans with seeds or nuts: hummus, salad topped with sunflower seeds and chickpeas
Note that having a varied vegetarian or vegan diet is key to getting enough protein. As long as you focus on eating enough calories and consuming a variety of plant-based foods, like legumes, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds throughout the day, chances are you'll be getting the nutrients you need.