One of hardest things when becoming a vegetarian is making sure you get enough protein. Protein is made up of amino acids. Most of the 20 plus amino acids can be made by your body but for 8 of them, the essential amino acids, your body must depend on your diet. This is where new vegetarians can get into trouble because the easiest way of providing your body with these amino acids is through meat, which is no longer an option. If you combine your foods properly it is possible to get all the essential amino acids and not have to kill anybody. An example of combining the protein in plant foods to cover all your bases is something like legumes (dried beans) and rice. Another easy one is peanut butter and whole wheat. The beans cover one side and the rice covers the other side. If you really want to be vegetarian you have to figure out which foods provide which essential amino acids and then combine them. It takes work but there are lots of vegetarian cook books and websites that will help. As a side note if your pre pubescent or in the midst of puberty its probably better to continue eating the eggs of other animals because they are such excellent sources of protein as well as vitamins and minerals. Remember to eat different things and not get stuck eating the same food. If you’re to lazy to research and you still want to be a vegetarian the easiest rule is the one I mentioned above about mixing beans and rice (go for rice that has not been refined and had its fiber taken away). Make sure you get your protein or else you will get sick and tired. Any other ideas for getting all the proper protein would be much appreciated :)

One of the first things that people ask about if they're seriously asking me about vegetarianism and aren't hung up on the animal rights thing is, But how do you get enough protein? You have to be SO careful about what you eat!

To them i usually respond, i eat a variety of things. That is usually enough. Having read (and been heavily influenced by) Diet For a Small Planet when quite young, i was interested to see this revision from Frances Moore Lappé on the subject of protein complementarity, a concept that she popularized in that book.

From Diet for a Small Planet, Tenth Anniversary Edition, Frances Moore Lappé:

When I first wrote Diet for a Small Planet in 1971, the idea that people could live well without meat seemed much more controversial than it does today. I felt I had to prove to nutritionists and doctors that because we could combine proteins to create foods equal in protein usability to meat, people could thrive on a nonmeat or low-meat diet. Today, few dispute that people can thrive on this kind of diet. In fact, more and more health professionals are actually advocating less meat precisely for health reasons. ...

In 1971 I stressed protein complementarity because I assumed that the only way to get enough protein (without consuming too many calories) was to create a protein as usable by the body as animal protein. In combatting the myth that meat is the only way to get high-quality protein, I reinforced another myth. I gave the impression that in order to get enough protein without meat, considerable care was needed in choosing foods. Actually, it is much easier than I thought.

With three important exceptions, there is little danger of protein deficiency in a plant food diet. The exceptions are diet very heavily dependent on fruit or on some tubers, such as sweet potatoes or cassava, or on junk food (refined flours, sugars, and fat). Fortunately, relatively few people in the world try to survive on diets in which these foods are virtually the sole source of calories. In all other diets, if people are getting enough calories, they are virtually certain of getting enough protein.

Please pay close attention to the last paragraph. This means that those who eat junky (refined, how's that for irony) foods are more likely to be protein deficient than a vegetarian who eats eclectically (dangu! is that a word?). Of course, it's also a warning to certain fruititarians, i suppose.

This doesn't mean that some people won't have problems getting the protein they need: their lifestyle may require that they get more (weightlifters, etc., for example), or they may have other health considerations. But there are more important nutrients that you need to be sure to get, like B vitamins, which are relatively uncommon from vegetable sources (hint: brewer's or nutritional yeast - yummy).

Our friend Protector of Mankind rebuts,

Maybe vegetarians who love cooking and have been at it for a while will have no problem because they will do it naturally because of their love of all things whole and good but I think if you're just starting out you should not depend on protein taking care of itself and you should try and balance meals properly with protein in mind (also taking vegetarianism, vitamins and minerals into consideration).
It's true, protein is not a non-issue, especially for new vegetarians, especially for those who were not raised, as i was, in a household where a variety of food was made at home from whole and fresh ingredients (and provided a focus of the day: food is not just about nutrition!). I suppose i haven an unfair advantage. However, sources that i have read say that Americans on average consume 2 - 5 times more protein than they need (probably because of their overconsumption of meat, and of food in general). The Vegetarian Society of the UK ( says "it would be very difficult to design a vegetarian diet that is short on protein".

The issue of complete proteins comes up because proteins that our bodies use to build and regenerate themselves are themselves made up of amino acids; and while most food substances contain amino acids, not all of them contain a full set of the 8 considered essential to humans, or a complete protein. Animal protein, being made up basically of the same thing as us, will provide us with our essential amino acids, guaranteed. However, if that is out, there are plenty of plant sources that will provide all 8. Grains (such as rice) and legumes (you know, beans) are excellent sources, and balance each other out: the grains tend to lack the amino acid lysine, while the legumes tend to be short on methionine. Combining them is a good idea, however, they don't necessarily have to be combined in one meal. A good plan would be to include one such good protein source in each meal throughout the day (and be sure to eat several meals!) If you eat dairy and eggs, your task is further simplified with respect to proteins.

Too much protein is also not without its risks. It is not only wasteful (unused protein is not stored in the body), but it has been linked to cancer and osteoporosis due to inhibited calcium uptake. Because excess protein in the bloodstream is processed through the kidneys, it may also cause damage to your kidneys. Of course, these studies are always fallible, but i'll take my warning.

Oh, and: food can be a great source of satisfaction, creative and aesthetic as well as physical, in your life. So if you don't love to cook now, don't just make do with whatever's around that doesn't have meat in it.

I usually assume anybody who worries about vegetarians and protein either has a very skewed idea of what regular not-really-terrible diets look like, or they just have no idea what they are talking about, or both.

As a vegetarian of possibly 10 years by now, I know my shit. I know what's going on in my body. I've had countless blood tests, and until recently, I've been found to be satisfactory (or absolutely phenomenal) in all areas. However, a couple of months ago, I was found to be seriously lacking in B12, which I owe to my recent reduction of dairy, making me nearly vegan aside from eggs, cheese, and other goodies, and slightly lacking in iron.

I now take 1000 micrograms of B12 a day, and two capsules of iron stuffs that I still can't understand the makeup of, I just know that it's a sufficient amount to keep me healthy. Never once has a doctor commented on my protein level. Never once have I been found to be anywhere nearing a "low" protein level. In fact I tracked my own diet for a week, and found that I overconsumed protein by a large enough margin to keep me safe from any sort of deficiency in that, save for a radical change in my diet.

And I'm a pretty typical vegetarian. I don't really slack off on my diet, but I don't pick over every little thing either. I should probably watch what I eat a bit more, and if I did, I probably wouldn't be underweight and deficient in B12 and iron, but one thing I've never had to worry about in the least is protein. I don't neglect my diet, but I don't really watch it either. This is probably easier for me due to my liking vegetables and fruits a whole lot. But I do get chocolate cravings, and I do binge, and the whole lot.

As has been said earlier, it would be extremely difficult for a vegetarian to be low on protein. You'd have to eat junk. And honestly, there isn't that much junk for a vegetarian to eat, much less a vegan. About half of all candy and sweets seem to have gelatin in them, making them unsuitable for vegetarians, and the rest have dairy products, leaving maybe 2% of snack foods for vegans, and probably about half suitable for veggie heads like me.

Vegetarians pretty much -have- to eat healthily. I can't imagine a satisfying vegetarian diet that is unhealthy. You could eat chocolate bars and potato chips all day, but even your regular joe schmo omnivore is nowhere close to that. Just as omnivores would like a filling meal, so would we vegetarians.

And to get that, you're going to get protein.

Honestly, almost all the food we consume has protein. Sometimes it is trace amounts, but it is enough. I would go so far as to say that protein is a non-issue for vegetarians. Pardon my ignorance, but what do you even CALL a protein deficiency due to diet? Have you ever heard of anyone with one, which wasn't caused by digestive or physiological problems? I sure haven't.

In western culture, a protein deficient diet is non-existent. Even in vegetarians, we are more likely to overconsume than to underconsume protein. I don't eat a lot either. I also go on stupid binges, like eating an entire cheesecake in a day. Yeah. I do dumb, ordinary things like that. And I'm healthy, now that I have my supplements, none of which include protein. I bike 20-40 minutes a day, on average. By my BMI, I am considered underweight for a woman in her early 20s, but I am not weak. I'm fit. And I'm happy. And I don't really watch my diet or care about protein. Hell, I don't even know how much protein I consume anymore, and I don't care, because I know that I don't need to worry about it.

When somebody asks me "How do you get your protein?" I instantly hang my head, and mentally run through the steps I'd have to take to get this person to understand that any diet, even vegetarian, would have to be terrible to be low on protein. I decide it's not worth it, so I tell them "eggs", which is at least partly the truth. This seems to satisfy them.

It's not my job to justify my diet to you. Please remember that when you dine with me. I don't ask you to justify your carnivorous tendencies to me. And if I am still here, not keeling over, and still riding my bike every day, you can assume I'm not dying for my diet.

Now to explain calcium...

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