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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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March 03, 2008

Dear Mark: Vegetarian Protein Possibilities

By Mark Sisson
45 Comments

In response to last week’s “Encore on Omegas” post, reader dunim asked this question about alternative protein sources:

Mark, how can an active person who doesn’t eat meat or fish and wants to eat minimum soy get good quality protein? Would you suggest whey supplements in case the protein requirements are not met? How much whey is too much?

As everyone and their grandmothers know, I strongly advise a meat and fish eating diet for the most complete nutrition. That said, I know that vegetarians won’t die of protein deprivation. However, they need to make more of a concerted effort to get the full “family” of amino acid building blocks. There are 22 amino acids that the human body uses to manufacture muscle and other vital tissue. Together, these 22 are essential for the body’s repair and regeneration needs. For vegetarians, getting enough of all 22 amino acids generally entails consuming more protein-containing carbohydrates and more calories to get the full amount of necessary protein.

Whey is probably your best quality source of protein. Studies have shown that milk proteins (whey being one) are especially beneficial (and more effective than soy) for muscle growth. A whey-protein shake once or twice a day can offer what I call “protein insurance.” I’d suggest 40 grams a day.

In addition to the whey-protein shakes (my personal favorite ;)), I’d absolutely recommend DHA-enhanced eggs as a staple for your diet. Though I also suggest flax for ALA omega-3s, flax isn’t converted efficiently enough to provide complete omega-3 needs.

Other protein sources you can consider include Greek or European style yogurt, nuts and nut butters (particularly almonds and almond butter), high protein legumes like lentils, higher protein grains like quinoa, and tempeh if you are interested in incorporating some soy.

Thanks, as always, for the question. Despite my pro-meat/fish stance (just had to get that out there one more time), I know that people choose a vegetarian lifestyle for a variety of compelling, non-health related reasons. Of course, each of us makes various kinds of health compromises in building the life we want: dealing with the smog to live with the benefits of a large city, playing a dangerous sport we love and can’t bear to give up, accepting high levels of stress in a job that offers us fulfillment and/or other significant benefits, etc. When we’re intentional about the compromises we make, we’re in a better spot to effectively and creatively mitigate the disadvantages they bring.

Keep the questions coming, everyone. Thanks!

VeganWarrior Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

44 Finger Lickin’ Recipes for Vegans and Carnivores Alike

Scrutinizing Soy

5 Meats to Avoid

Escape from Vegan Island!

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45 Comments on "Dear Mark: Vegetarian Protein Possibilities"

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bill
bill
8 years 6 months ago

There are 22 amino acids that the human body uses to manufacture muscle and other vital tissue. This seems like a daunting task to always be on the side of positive eating habits, to fulfill the amino acid requirements. But, then again I am not a vegetarian and do not see the benefits of not eating fish and grilled chicken breast.

McFly
McFly
8 years 6 months ago

What about beans? I’ve always been a big bean boy myself, or is the lima and the garbanzo too close to the soy?

FumbleBunnyToes
FumbleBunnyToes
8 years 6 months ago

The problem with protein shakes these days is 99.99992% of them are a whey/soy blend. There are the acceptions like the “100% Pure Whey Muscle Blends!@!@!” but I haven’t found any that taste good.

Sasquatch
8 years 6 months ago
I eat meat but I try to keep the portions small for environmental reasons. I like to get good-quality protein and fat and keep my carb intake low though, so it makes me get creative. My most consistent source of protein is pasture-raised chicken and duck eggs. I eat 2-4 eggs a day. I also think eggs are one of the healthiest foods one can eat. The more naturally they’re raised, the more nutritious they are. Dairy is great if you tolerate it but fermented is best. I eat lots of cheese and I make my own yogurt from grass-fed… Read more »
surplusj
8 years 6 months ago

Thanks for a great post. I wonder, too, about seitan. Obvs, not an option for gluten-intolerant folks, but if you don’t have celiac? (I also like it because it’s tasty and fun to make, but that doesn’t mean it’s awesome for my body.)

charlotte
8 years 6 months ago
As a long-time vegetarian who doesn’t eat many grains either & hates soy, I found this post fascinating! Does vegetable protein count? Maybe I don’t worry enough about protein but I just make sure and make vegetables the main course of all my meals. I also eat a lot of beans, legumes and nuts. Like Sasquatch, I also eat a lot of eggs and fermented dairy. I drink milk. And I stay as far away as possible from packaged “vegetarian” garbage. Sasquatch – how do you make your own yogurt? And what are “anti-nutrients”? I always heard that one should… Read more »
Sasquatch
8 years 6 months ago
Hi Charlotte, For the yogurt, I buy unpasteurized grass-fed milk at the farmer’s market. Then I culture it overnight with ABY-2C culture starter from the Dairy Connection. ABY-2C gives a firm enough curd even if you use raw milk. I pour it into jars in a styrofoam cooler, pour 115 F water over it and let it sit. Anti-nutrients are molecules that prevent the absorption of nutrients. The most studied anti-nutrient is phytic acid, and it dramatically reduces the absorption of certain minerals from food. Seeds like grains, nuts and legumes are full of them. The best way to get… Read more »
charlotte
8 years 6 months ago

Wow, thanks for the information Sasquatch! I’d seen the yogurt starter in the store and always wondered how to use it. It sounds really easy – I’m trying it this weekend. I get so many great ideas from this site!

Since I always use dried beans, I soak them overnight before using them so hopefully that’s enough to nutralize the anti-nutrients because I eat a lot of beans.

Parul
2 years 30 days ago

If you have plain yogurt you can use it as a starter for yogurt. I am sure flavored yogurt will work too but plain is better. This is how we make yogurt in India. Add the yogurt starter to luke warm milk and let it sit for 8-10 hours in a warm area. It might take longer if you live in colder areas.
To make greek yogurt just hang the curd and let water drain. You can use water for curries or breads if you want.

dunim
dunim
8 years 6 months ago
Mark Thanks for answering my question in detail. I have been vegetarian my whole life. Its not something I chose..I grew up as one and now I can’t seem to handle any kind of meat or seafood. Eggs, yogurt and milk form major part of my diet. These days I carry Whey protein powder in small container and mix it with water and drink it up straight. It makes a great snack when I am on go. Surplusj In my effort to reduce soy in my diet, I recently “found” how to make seitan at home. I am wondering too… Read more »
jaime
8 years 6 months ago

dunim– Me too! I’m in love with this recipe: http://www.postpunkkitchen.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=15959&p=1. It’s super-easy, very adjustable (I made a version with sage and thyme, too), and really protein-dense. That is, if the gluten isn’t gonna kill us.

joehawins
joehawins
8 years 6 months ago

longtime lurker here… thanks for all the wonderful info! regarding whey… i am learning everyday about traditional diets… with that in mind, it is my understanding that dry milk product is best avoided because processing oxides the cholesterol and this could be culprit in the clogging of arteries… shouldn’t the same apply to dried whey? or is processing different for this product?

dunim
dunim
8 years 6 months ago

jaime

OMG I used the same recipe few days ago 🙂 It was really dense but yummy.

jm
jm
8 years 6 months ago

fumblebunny, try optimum 100% whey gold standard in banana cream, its yummy

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[…] Dear Mark: Vegetarian Protein Possibilities […]

Louis Simpson
Louis Simpson
8 years 1 month ago

I HAVE MEDABOLICAL ARTHERITIS, MY BLOOD CRYSTALYSES. I CANT EAT RED MEAT, ORGAN MEAT, SHELL FISH, LEGUMES, CHEESE ORE SPINACH. BESIDES EATING CARDBOARD , WHAT CAN I EAT FOR NATURAL PROTEIN.
THANKS
LOU

michaela
michaela
4 years 2 months ago

Have you tried hemp seeds?

trackback

[…] Can one be both vegetarian and Primal? Modern Forager does a good job of tackling this meaty subject. And also, check out these vegetarian protein possibilities. […]

Ankit
Ankit
7 years 8 months ago

Why is tempeh a better soy source than tofu? Can you explain please?

Matt
Matt
10 months 15 days ago

Tempeh is fermented soy, and tofu is not. The fermentation reduces many of the negative aspects people associate with soy consumption, and the fermentation process does many wonderful things to the food. It can make nutrients more bioavailable to us, reduce allergens and anti-nutrients like phytates and lectins, as well as help the food express new novel cofactors it did not contain before the fermentation process.

nina_70
nina_70
6 years 9 months ago

Nice post – as a former vegetarian and now “happily eating grass-fed meats” grokette, I agree w/ everything written.

DEB EMENHISER
DEB EMENHISER
6 years 7 months ago

I JUST GOT THE BOOK ‘THE CHINA STUDY’. IT IS ABOUT HOW ANIMAL PROYEIN IS BAD FOR YOU AND STARTING A PLANT BASED DIET. I NEED RECIPES AND SOURCES OF PROTEIN. THANKS DEB EMENHISER

Shannon
Shannon
6 years 7 months ago

The China Study book is rubbish. Campbell (the book’s author) selectively picked out data to match his beliefs. The actual data says things entirely different than what he proposes in the book. Do research on it before you believe it. I don’t have time to type everything out, but there are rebuttals to Campbell out there.

And, btw, I used to be a believer in vegan/vegetarian diets. NOT ANYMORE. I got very ill because my body isn’t suited to a veg diet. But that’s not to say other people can’t thrive on it. It’s just not for some people.

James
James
5 years 4 months ago

Exact same experience here… On a vegetarian diet (or any carb based diet) I always felt really tired and cold 24/7. I needed over 10 or 11 hours of sleep most nights. As for the china study, I agree there too. The study proved that feeding rats a diet extremely high in pure refined casein powder can induce liver cancer, thats it. It’s like saying fructose can cause fatty liver and therefore we should avoid all green vegetables because they have traces of fructose in them.

Michael
Michael
6 years 5 months ago
I think it needs to be said, protein is extremely important for body builders/extreme athletes but not for the average athletic person seeking longevity. Look at the lifespan of professional football players & body builders (I am not bashing them, I LOVE football). There in no more nutrition in meat than in a good variety of plant based foods. Although I am thrilled you promote grass-fed, humanely treated animals which is awesome, why do you think their meat is more nutritious than factory farmed meat? Maybe it is because they get to eat high quality PLANTS in a healthy environment!… Read more »
Michael
Michael
6 years 5 months ago

And I am not suggesting vegetarianism or veganism, just less meat consumption for the sake of health & well-being and a sustainable amount of athleticism.

Seb
Seb
5 years 8 months ago
The most concentrated source of protein is a blue green algae called spirulina, it’s 70% protein which are absorbed much better than from meat or whey. It’s a complete protein and it’s also considered by many to be them most complete food in the world. Another blue green algea called chlorella is between 50-60% protein. Those too found a incredibly rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxydant, chlorophyl (chlorella is the richest source) and possess many health benefits like boosting the immune system, cleansing the body from toxing, etc.. Hemp seeds is my favorite source of protein, hemp is one of the… Read more »
Michael
Michael
5 years 26 days ago

@Seb —

This is an awesome post!

As a vegetarian myself, I wanted to thank you for the incredible information. I think most people who fail in the attempt are simply not clued into _what_ to eat.

Michael
Michael
5 years 26 days ago

P.S. — I am not the Michel who posted before Seb’s post.

Nicole
Nicole
2 years 6 months ago

Hi Seb, I found your post very informative. I’m a new vegetarian and could use guidance similar to what you’ve posted. Do you have any resources you’d recommend? Thank you!!

trackback

[…] Vegetarian Protein at Mark’s Daily Apple […]

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[…] Dear Mark: Vegetarian Protein Possibilities – If you just won’t eat meat, here are a few ways to get protein (note, fish is on the list, I’m not sure what kind of vegetarian you are, but I implore you to be the fish eating kind) […]

R. Bailey
5 years 2 months ago

these are some really good points…..it has nudged me in to more detailed study…Thank You..R Bailey

Joseph Tripp
Joseph Tripp
5 years 24 days ago

OR you can just eat meat.

cheecha
cheecha
4 years 11 months ago

Well, that’s a constructive comment! this is a wonderful conversation, why cut it off with comments like that?

I am a MS nutritionist and have a naturopathic masters in nutrition, and i …there are many valid points to both sides of the conversation here…what is most valuable, i think, is the acceptance of the possibility that there are in fact different metabolic and digestive abilities that exist among us. and that we can remain open to that conversation without being judgmental or …

great and useful postings for the most part, though! i appreciate your site!

cheecha
cheecha
4 years 11 months ago

my message got clipped, i just wanted to ad that i am an avid crossfitter and for 50, keep up with (and surpass) all but the most agro youngsters at my gym. I am not vegetarian, but prefer very little animal protein other that eggs and fish in my diet. i have found that this works well for me personally, but have clients who run the gamut from vegan to ex-junkfooders.

L
L
4 years 4 months ago
Hi Mark, I think you should look into this more deeply. As Seb’s comments point out the most efficient proteins for the human body are not meat. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protein_Digestibility_Corrected_Amino_Acid_Score Also, you seem to be working under the assumption that animal proteins and non-animal proteins are different – they are not. In fact there is no such thing as animal protein, that would be a massive over-simplification of the way essential and non essential proteins are combined and created in the bodies of animals, including humans. Soy protein can be manufactured to replace beef, chicken or in its own traditional forms such… Read more »
Drea
Drea
4 years 2 months ago
L., Respectfully, you need to do some research as well. I say that as someone that used to be vegetarian and held opinions similar to yours. Start by looking around a bit on this website, Mark has some great information. A short retort to your post (forgive the lack of references, it would take me too long to compile!): Soy is not healthy to eat in large quantities. Meat is a complete source of protein while plant sources are not (but can be eaten in the right combination to make complete proteins.) Protein is not the biggest issue when it… Read more »
Drea
Drea
4 years 2 months ago

Edit: “In addition, “primal” diet generally means pre-agriculture.[Agricultural foods] include grains, cheese, and legumes, which I’m sure you consume a good deal of. [Soy is not the only deviant from the primal diet].”

Robert
Robert
4 years 2 months ago
Fascinating that so many vegans and vegetarians comment on Mark’s articles. There isn’t enough ‘research into vegetarianism’ on the site? IT’S NOT A VEGETARIAN WEBSITE. There are plenty of those if you’re seeking research on all the benefits of not eating meat. And meat products. And by-products. I’d feel free to read what Mark has to say, weigh it in your own mind and make your own decisions – but please don’t mind if people don’t want to have to filter through vegan talking points to get to useful information from others living a primal lifestyle.
Erika
Erika
3 years 2 months ago
This is definitely NOT a vegetarian website as you say. I’ve been a vegetarian since birth but from what I’ve read on Mark’s website eating meat definitely makes sense. I’ve made the choice to remain a vegetarian for personal reasons and I recognise that this makes living the optimum primal lifestyle all but impossible, however, I wouldn’t criticize this website if nothing was ever mentioned about vegetarian options because I know that’s not what Mark and primal is about. Like you have said Robert, I get my information from other websites that are dedicated to vegetarian nutrition and tailor that… Read more »
Nic
Nic
3 years 10 months ago

A great source of protein (as well as the perfect balance of Omega 3,6 & 9) are Hemp Seeds! They are delicious too!

Kai
Kai
2 years 10 months ago

Hi, I’m a pescatarian and have just started this primal lifestyle! Although I think I might struggle with not eating meat. I eat quorn , is this acceptable replacement as meat free does anyone know? Thanks 🙂

Scott
Scott
2 years 10 months ago

I think that the discussion of primal vs veggie/vegan should continue. I’d like to ask veggie/vegans if they think there is a healthy limit to your daily carb intake? It certainly depends upon size and activity but do you really think 300+ gms per day is ok?

Andy
1 year 11 months ago
Hi Mark, It’s refreshing to read a well-rounded and non-militant response to vegetarianism. I’ve been a supporter of Paleo lifestyle for a number of years and I can’t deny the health benefits. Unfortunately I’ve had to cut down on my meat consumption recently because of startling statistics concerning the amount of meat produced for the planet as a whole. In 2012 70 billion animals were reared for food consumption* And a study by the National Academy of Sciences showed that livestock production is one of the most destructive forces driving climate change^ Raising animals to eat produces more greenhouse gasses… Read more »
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