Savvy Vegetarian's Protein Sample Menus show that it's easy to get plenty of protein on a vegetarian or plant based diet.
Side-by-side menus show what to eat instead of meat for enough protein. E.G. what's the plant food equivalent of a hamburger?
The comparison of omnivore and plant-based menus explains the differences between the menus, and points out the advantages and danger zones of a vegetarian or vegan diet over a meat based diet.
We used the US Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) of protein for the comparison, even though for most people it's too much protein. The average daily recommended protein requirement for adults ranges from 43 grams for a 120 lb adult woman to 58 grams for a 160 lb man.
Both menus are reasonable healthy, economical, and similar except for lunch. Originally, we had a Burger King veggie burger & side salad for the plant based menu. But there's way too much sodium in almost all commercial veggie burgers & salad dressings! So the vegetarian took a bag lunch.
The following menus are based on an adult diet, around 2000 calories a day.
1. In spite of the fact that both menus are reasonably healthy (except for the meat and sugar), and not too high in calories for an active adult, they both have TOO MUCH PROTEIN, especially the omnivore menu. No matter what kind of diet you eat, in North America, too much protein is usually far more of a problem than too little.
Excess protein consumption is linked to kidney disease, cancer and osteoporosis. Body elimination of excess protein puts a strain on the kidneys and liver. Too much animal protein can also make you fat because animal foods are typically high in fat and calories.
2. The meat based menu has a bit too much iron, and the plant based menu doesn't quite meet the RDA for iron. The challenge, especially for vegans, is keeping iron levels up without increasing fat, sugar or overall calories too much. There are plenty of iron rich plant foods, plus iron fortified foods - an easy way to make sure you're getting enough iron in your vegetarian diet.
3. The plant based menu is loaded with fiber, but the omnivore menu is on the low side for dietary fiber - in spite of the fact that the diet is fairly healthy. The reason is that plant foods have fiber, and animal foods don't. That includes dairy and egg. The more animal foods in our diets compared to plant food, the less fiber we get.
Diseases such as colon cancer, diabetes, and high cholesterol are related to lack of dietary fiber. To get more fiber in your diet, eat more veggies, fruits and whole grains, and less animal foods. An easy way to do this is to have meatless meals several times a week.
4. Total fat in the plant based menu is 93% of the recommended daily value. The omnivore menu has 113 of the total fat RDA, and 95% of the RDA for saturated fat. The veggie menu has 60% of the RDA for saturated fat. Generally, more fiber in the diet = less fat.
5. Total carbohydrates are 86% of RDA for the omni menu, and 89% for the veggie menu. Protein on the other hand is way too high in both menus. Whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits naturally have a healthy balance of high quality complex carbohydrates to fuel your body, and protein to build and repair it.
6. Vitamin B12 is a critical nutrient which we all must get from our food, or from supplements. The omni menu has B12 in a few foods, but the only source in the veggie menu is fortified non-dairy milk and yogurt. Animal foods, including eggs and dairy, all have B12, but most plant foods don't, or only in minute amounts.
B12 deficiency is surprisingly widespread considering how much meat most North Americans eat. So vegetarians, vegans and omnivores all need to make sure that they're getting enough Vitamin B12.
7. Both menus illustrate another common deficiency - Omega 3. Egg yolks, dairy products, and fish are good animal food sources of Omega 3s. The best, but not the only, plant food sources of Omega 3 are flax seed oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts.
By the way, vegetarians and vegans don't have to eat complementary proteins at each meal to get complete protein.
Whenever we eat, our body stores amino acids, then withdraws and combines them as needed. Our bodies make complete protein, and all we have to do is supply a healthy diet. Simple!
Don't Worry about getting complete protein when eating meatless meals. Eat a large variety of whole foods, get enough calories, and in most cases, you'll not only get enough protein, your body will make complete protein for you!