Humans are undoubtedly designed to eat animal-based products. Consider the fact that virtually all traditional cultures consume some sort of animal protein and fat, whether it be from fish and other seafood, water and land fowl, land animals, eggs, dairy, reptiles, or even insects. Getting the right amount and balance of proteins is not a problem for anyone following a diet that includes these. But what about those active people who don’t eat meat, fish, or eggs and want to eat minimum soy get good quality protein? What are the best sources of protein for vegetarians? Quite frankly, it is hard for a vegetarian to get the full spectrum of amino acid building blocks that are essential to the human body, but it is by all means possible.
How to get protein as a vegetarian
This topic is addressed by Matt Frazie of The No Meat Athlete. The Paleo Diet, as you know, is based on the principles of what we are “designed to eat.” As such, it includes copious amounts of the animal-based products that vegans cannot eat. Frazie shows no hesitation in pointing out that it is simply impossible to follow the Paleo Diet as a vegetarian since every major vegetarian source of protein, including soy, beans, and quinoa are not allowed. However, he does point out that there are ways to slightly modify the Paleo diet in order to get those essential amino acids.
1. Eggs. If you are a vegetarian that does not avoid eggs, then by all means eat eggs! They contain all nine essential amino acids as well as three essential fatty acids. You could actually meet all the protein requirements by simply including quality sources of this nutritious food.
2. Grain-like seeds. Grain-like seeds such as quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat behave more like grains than like nuts which is why most Paleo-style diets do not allow them. They contain mostly carbohydrates as opposed to other seeds such as sunflower seeds which contain mostly fat and protein. However, including these in your diet would definitely get you closer to meeting protein requirements for the day.
3. Hemp. Some Paleo diets do not allow this seed, but it is definitely worth taking a look at. Its amino acid profile rivals that of soy, meat, and even eggs making it one of the most valuable vegetarian foods high in protein. It also contains good amounts of essential fatty acids as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and manganese. They are also gluten-free.
4. Soaked or sprouted beans and legumes. The major issue with beans and legumes is that they contain certain enzyme-inhibitors and anti-nutrients that make them quite hard to digest–even after cooking. However, soaked and sprouted beans and legumes are much more digestible and can be a valuable source of protein for vegetarians.
5. Vegetarian protein powders. One potentially valuable source of protein that Frazie overlooks is whey. Mark Sission of Mark’s Daily Apple attests to the benefits of whey protein powder while on a Paleo diet. Although he highly recommends a diet containing meat and fish, he points out that good quality whey protein supplements contain a very large spectrum of amino acids that would greatly benefit any vegetarian. My favorite source of whey is whey concentrate, and favorite product is Jarrow Formulas Whey Protein Unflavored.