Many years ago, I worked in a vegetarian restaurant. In total, 40 people staffed the place, disciples of a certain famous Indian guru who shall remain nameless, working different shifts mostly on a volunteer basis. The restaurant was their "home away from home" and most of them ate there regularly, took food home, or styled their own eating habits after the food that was prepared there. It was typical vegetarian fare, lots of cheese, bread in different forms, grains, pasta, tomatoes, tamari-based sauces, lots of vegetables, raw and cooked. And generous amounts of sugar in various forms.

I didn't know much about vegetarianism when I started working there and after about a year began to feel very tired, had headaches almost every day and was noticing that I was becoming quite spaced out. The spacing out alarmed me because when I first started working there I thought they were the most spaced-out group of people I had ever met and here I was becoming one of them.

So I went to see a doctor, had some blood tests done and they indicated that my blood sugar levels were very erratic. After doing some reading about this, I realized that I wasn't getting enough protein in my diet, way too much carbohydrate and a fair amount of sugar. And I was very surprised to discover that cheese is not a particularly good source of protein. So I made some changes and within a couple of months felt much better. I suggested that others I was working with get blood tests done and over the next few months they did so with similar results, some of them with higher readings than my own.

After that we changed the menu to ensure a balance of protein along with people's favourite comfort foods. When you get a group of 40 people with the same condition, all eating the same diet, it makes it pretty clear what's going on.

Completing protein within a vegetarian diet is not that difficult. It's a matter of knowing what ingredients are high protein or which to combine to make a complete protein. Meinjin (wheat gluten) is a good source of protein, as is soy but not as high as meinjin. Nuts are good, but most people can't tolerate huge quantities of nuts. The best thing to do is eat a varied diet and combine certain ingredients to complete or increase the amount of protein. A good example of this is miso shiru served with rice, gomasio and pickles. Or vegetarian kedgeree which uses a combination of legumes and grain providing a complete protein even without the eggs.

So, when you're making a bean dish, think about adding rice or corn or wheat to complete the protein. Or if making a grain, add nuts or beans. Or if serving tofu, throw some sesame seeds on top of it. Use cheese for flavour instead of protein.

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