This is a question my vegetarian friends share constantly. It is obviously easier to incorporate protein in your diet if you eat meat and eggs. But, if you don’t, there are many ways that you can incorporate protein in every meal. Protein is needed for growth of children, to repair and form muscles, to maintain organs, for immunity and also for satiety at every meal. Ideally, each meal that you have must incorporate protein in some form. On an average, you need about 1 gm. of protein per Kg. of bodyweight. So an adult of 60 Kgs. will need 60 gms. of protein approximately daily. Growing children and children undergoing growth spurts will need much more. If you are an adult who works out regularly, you may need more protein in your diet. Now break that down to 3 meals in a day and accordingly incorporate about 20 gm. each meal (for a 60 kg. adult).
Our Indian diet may sometimes neglect protein as we pair chapatis with sabzi or have things like upma, rice dishes, dosa with chutney etc. Here are some ideas to incorporate protein in a vegetarian diet:
Most vegetarians consume milk and its products. If you do drink milk, include curd in your diet, add paneer and cheese for a good protein add-on. I religiously add a bowl of curd to my meals.
Indian cuisine is rich in the preparation of pulses. Black gram, chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils are tasty as curries, in salads when boiled, as dips, as cutlets, made as dal and its preparations. Pulses like green gram, moth, lobia etc. are wonderful in curries and also in salads. You can up their nutrition by sprouting them. When you are in a rush, just pair your sabzi and roti with a bowl of cooked pulses that could be a quick stir fry or salad of pulses. Or pair with a bowl of curd. Or of course a hearty bowl of thick dal. When I pack the tiffin for my children, I ensure that they get dal, roti and sabzi or a protein curry and rice or a similar combination. I always pack sambhar with idlis and chutney. Don’t skip your dal.
Nuts and Seeds
Dry fruits, seeds and nuts are a wonderful source of protein. You can pack a handful of nuts in your child’s tiffin or have it as a snack mid morning or evening. Peanut butter is a good source of protein and good fats. Almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts along with seeds like sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, flax seeds are excellent in salads or as sprinkling on your food or in your curries. I sometimes powder them and add them to my atta dough. Do remember that they are pretty high in fats so don’t binge eat them. They are also a great source of good cholesterol or HDL. The same stuff that gets better with exercise.
Soy milk, soya bean nuggets, edamame and tofu are excellent sources of protein for those who do not like milk or even otherwise. Add them to your diet.
Many vegetarians eat eggs. If you do, you have an excellent source of cheap protein that you can pair with almost anything to make a complete meal. We serve upma with egg, egg fried rice, sabzi roti with boiled egg to make it a wholesome meal.
Protein powder/Nutritional supplements
You can add protein powder to your child’s milk to up its protein quotient or add that to your smoothie. Add fruit and nuts along with milk and protein and you have a power smoothie for after workout or for an on-the-go liquid breakfast. If your child is fussy, try a smoothie. Most kids love them. Spirulina is an algae that is very high in protein. You can incorporate that in your diet.Your muscles need protein within 30 – 45 minutes after the workout to repair themselves.
Whole grains and legumes are a good combination to get all amino acids needed. Hence whole grain rotis with a pulse curry is a good wholesome choice. Also pay attention to your vitamin deficit. Meats are a good source of Vitamin B12. If you don’t consume much dairy and greens, you may be low on calcium. Ensure that you take a good multivitamin or foods fortified with vitamins and minerals.
All it requires is a bit of planning, and having wholesome meals daily is achievable. You can have adequate protein in your diet even if you are a vegetarian. Just make a chart of all the protein foods that you can eat and how much protein they have and voila you can plan excellent well-balanced meals. There are many apps that you can use that can help you calculate the nutritional information of your foods.
Do share any ideas you have of adding protein to your vegetarian diet.
Disclaimer: This is not intended to be medical advice. Please consult a nutritionist/physician for specific requirements.