As any vegetarian or vegan knows, the most frequent question that we are asked is, “Where do you get your protein?”
And the vegan standard answer is, “everywhere. Most food has protein and if you are eating enough calories, you are probably getting enough protein.”
The need for protein is seriously over-exaggerated in the minds of most Americans. If you ask a random person off the street why humans need meat, chances are he will say, “for the protein.” In actuality, we need less than we think. Even for body builders, serious weight lifters, boxers, and endurance athletes, it is not difficult to get plenty of protein on a vegan diet. Check out Robert Cheeke, Ryan Wilson, Tim Bradley, and Scott Jurek.
Basically, depending on your activity level, you need .36-.81 grams of protein per pound of body weight (source). Suggested numbers can vary, though. In this article, vegan bodybuilder Robert Cheeke discusses his diet and uses the suggested amount of 1.0-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight for athletes and bodybuilders. For myself, when I do the calculations I need about 78 grams of protein per day.
Just because I can easily get enough protein doesn’t mean I should just take it for granted. Because plant proteins are absorbed differently than animal sources, I must make sure that I get my protein from a variety of foods and possibly aim for a slightly higher ratio of protein grams to body weight (source) .
This salad is triple packed with protein. In addition to the greens and vegetables, which contain from 1-5 grams of protein per serving, plus an avocado which has about 7 grams, it also contains some super vegan protein sources: Tofu = 8 grams protein/3 ounces (I actually used Trader Joes High Protein tofu with 14 grams protein per 3 ounces), kidney beans = 7 grams per 1/2 cup and Quinoa = 5 grams per 1/2 cup.
You can compare the above to beef which has about 7 grams of protein per ounce.
Now, if you’re a vegan who has felt somewhat stumped by the “where do you get your protein” question, or an omnivore who has always wondered, I hope that you have a better understanding of our protein requirements and resources.
Triple Protein Packed Salad
8 ounces tofu, drained and pressed
2 Tablespoons tamari
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 Tablespoon Sriracha
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 cup quinoa, prepared according to package directions and chilled
1 can kidney beans (or beans of your choice), drained and rinsed
3 cups mixed greens
1/2 cups carrots, chopped
1/2 cup grape tomatoes
1/2 cup jicama, chopped
1/2 cup snow peas
1/4 cup green onions, chopped
1 avocado, cut into medium chunks
Vinaigrette Dressing of your choice – I used Mango Lime Vinaigrette from this recipe.
After pressing the tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Combine the tamari, broth, and Sriracha and marinate the tofu for at least 15 minutes.
Preheat the olive oil over medium high heat. Brown the tofu on all sides (reserving the marinade). When the tofu is brown, add the marinade, stir, then reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated. Remove the tofu from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
Combine the greens, quinoa, beans, carrots, tomatoes, jicama, peas, and onions and toss lightly. Add the tofu and toss gently. You can serve now or chill. Add the avocado and dressing to taste right before serving.
Makes 2-3 “big salad” servings.
Approximate Nutrition Data (based on 3 servings):
This chart does not include the extra protein that is in the high protein tofu. That would increase the amount to about 25 grams of protein per serving. If you are reducing calories in your diet, you can use a lower calorie dressing (or just use a little lemon–there is a lot of flavor in the salad already). You can also skip or reduce the amount of avocado. While avocados are delicious and very good for you, they do contain a lot of fat, albeit a good fat, so take that into consideration.
I hope I’ve answered some of your questions about protein needs and a vegetarian or vegan diet. If you have more questions, please ask in the comments. I will be happy to answer (or find the answer if I don’t know).