A lot of people are veering toward a diet that is sustainable without the inclusion of much meat, given its health benefits, and of course the ghastly practices that mass production of meat has led to. Although protein is of course essential (for cell maintenance, growth and repair - for muscles, organs and nutrient delivery - for healthy skin, hair and nails), much of our society has become obsessed with the macronutrient because of the low carb diet craze. Too much of anything gets stored, and that includes protein.
Generally, 8gram of protein for every 20lbs of bodyweight is a good place to start. If you are doing a lot of strength training, you may need more. If you are pregnant or lactating, you may need more. I like this article here on Livestrong.com. This site's info is typically pretty accurate.
I have a few vegetarian clients, and I myself eat predominantly meat-free (although when the quality is available, I do indulge here and there. And I certainly love my seafood!) It is a choice that everyone must make for oneself.
Even if you are NOT a vegetarian, it is important to know how else you can include this essential macronutrient into each meal. Every single time you eat, you should be consuming some protein. Some proteins are complete, and some are incomplete, which is another reason why variety in our diets is so important.
Although meats contain a high amount of essential amino acids, they also bring with them saturated (bad) fats that increase bad cholesterol levels in the body. Choosing vegetarian proteins is a great way to restrict your saturated fat intake. Most plant-based foods contain healthy fats - choose foods that grow from the ground for your also-very-important-macronutrient, FAT (another post, another time).
So, here is a list of some sources of vegetarian protein, how much of the macronutrient they contain, as well as some ideas for how to use them.
Spirulina 1 serving = 7g, 1 tablespoon 20 cal, 4g complete protein, .5g fat, 1.8g carbohydrates Sprinkle as flakes or powder over food, take in pill form. Source: Livestrong.com
Bee Pollen 1 serving = 15g, 1 tablespoon 47.1 cal, 3.6g complete protein, .74g fat, 6.5g carbohydrates Blends well into smoothies. Start by including a smaller amount, as it can lead to digestive issues because it is rich. If all goes well, have up to 30g / day. Source: Fitday.com
Chia 1 serving = 28g 137 cal, 4g complete protein, 9g fat (only 1g saturated), 12g carbohydrates Chia is also known for its high fibre - 11g. Add it into smoothies or sprinkle it on your breakfast. Source: Nutritiondata.self.com
Hemp Seeds 1 serving = 30g 174 cal, 11g complete protein, 14g fat (only 1g saturated), 2g carbohydrates Sprinkle it on vegetable dishes, into soups, or onto your breakfast. Source: Nutritiondata.self.com
Quinoa 1 serving = 185g or 1 cup cooked 222 cal, 8g complete protein, 4g fat, 39g carbohydrates Use as a substitute for rice in your stirfry dishes, a substitute for pasta dishes, toss it in your salads, or make a cold salad with it and lots of vegetables. Source: Nutritiondata.self.com
I admittedly love tofu, but we tend to get too many soy-based foods these days and they are messing with our estrogen levels. It is important for vegetarians to know the other sources of protein, to stock up on them and include them into their meals. Remember that including a combination of healthy grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables can also help you to gather proteins and the amino acids to increase your levels. Follow a balanced diet and you're sure to be strong, fit, lean and stunning (or handsome)!