Dear Mark: Vegetarian Protein Possibilities

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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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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