Protein Deficiency Risk With Vegetarian Diet

Bean soup
A bowl of hearty bean soup. (Image: LemonTreeKid/iStock/Getty Images)

You can give up meat and avoid a protein deficiency with the proper knowledge about vegetarian diets. After all, the animals people often eat, such as cows and pigs, have protein to give because the animals received it from their diets, which naturally consist of plant-based foods.

Protein Basics

Average adults, male or female, need about 0.36 gram of protein each day for every pound they weigh. Proteins are made up of 20 different kinds of amino acids, nine of which the body can't produce on its own. These nine are called ''essential amino acids.'' Meat is considered a complete protein because it contains all nine of these amino acids. Herbivores need to properly combine plant-based foods to form a complete protein in a meal.

Replace Instead of Eliminate

There is a difference between giving up meat and going vegetarian. Giving up a food group leaves a hole in your diet -- and on your plate. It must be replaced with something that fills the nutritional void. The trade off with the replacement is nutritionally beneficial. A porterhouse steak may have 40 grams of complete protein, but it also fills 60 percent of your daily saturated fat intake. A cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams of protein but under 1 gram of fat. Lentils can be topped with tofu or even sesame seeds for added texture and to provide a more complete protein balance.

Foods to Fill the Void

Lacto-ovo vegetarians, who eat eggs and dairy, should take advantage of the 6 grams of protein that a single large egg provides and the 8 grams of protein in 1 cup of low-fat milk. Eggs are a complete protein by themselves. Lacto-ovo vegetarians miss out on eating lean chicken -- that packs 20 to 35 grams of protein -- for lunch or dinner. Instead, for lunch, top a salad with walnuts and almonds. One ounce of most nuts can have 4 to 8 grams of protein along with other benefits. For dinner, rice and beans are an old favorite for a reason. Aside from their complementary amino acids, beans have about 15 grams of protein per 1-cup serving.

Signs of a Protein Deficiancy

An easy sign of a deficiency is fatigue. If you're tired in the middle of the day despite adequate sleep or you're having trouble concentrating, a lack of complete protein could be the culprit. Other signs could include feeling weak during strenuous activities, a lack of muscle development and slow recovery time, and even losing a larger than normal amount of hair. Combine plant sources of protein to get the essential nine amino acids and a deficiency can be easily avoided.

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