Dr. Vegetable Will See You Now!

Posted on Friday, March 11, 2011 in
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Thinking About Eating Vegetarian?

Hi, my name is Laura and for as long as I have known Wayne, he has been a vegetarian and a strong advocate for no dairy.

While I could understand the health benefits, I wasn’t compelled to revamp how I cooked. I felt our diet was already healthy. We seldom ate red meat, but we did eat chicken, pork or fish, with a good mix of vegetables, almost every night.

In October 2010, I had the opportunity to watch a pre-screening of the movie Forks Over Knives. (The film is coming to theaters in May and I recommend you go see it.) Sitting in that darkened banquet hall, I was stunned at the information shared on the screen. I had heard most of it before, but the term plant-strong appealed to me. And to my delight, it appealed to our 11 year old son Jacob too.

We left the movie that night thinking we have to change how we eat. And then reality set in - we have to change how we eat! This meant I would have to change how I cook. Thoughts started rushing through my head about where would I start? What would we eat? How would I make the kids' lunches?

I was overwhelmed just thinking about it. I wondered, "Is there a class I could take? Where do I find someone to teach me to cook this way?"

I went to our local library and checked out a bunch of vegetarian cookbooks. I was excited, thinking this might work, but so many of the recipes were labor intensive -requiring 2+ hours of preparation and cooking time. Plus, most of the recipes used a lot of dairy: milk, creams and cheese.

I began experimenting in my kitchen and discovered moments of culinary genius, like using pureed cannellini beans to thicken a soup, paired with moments of disaster like how was I supposed to know tofu has to be pressed to remove moisture?

We are still a work in progress, but Wayne and Dale asked if I would share what I am learning.

Quick and Easy "go to" Meals

I wanted to figure out my 20 Go To meals for each season of the year. I wanted meals that are easy (and quick) to make. I don’t have 2 hours every day to cook – I needed meals I could make in 30 minutes or less, that our kids would enjoy too.

My biggest question was where will we get our protein?

I have a sensitivity to soy, so I didn’t want to just substitute tofu for meat. When I began researching, I was surprised to find out how readily available protein is.

  • Beans & Lentils are a good start. They have 7-10 grams of protein per 1/2 cup cooked. Soy beans have 14 grams per 1/2 cup and split peas have 8 grams per 1/2 cup. All these 1/2 cup measures are for cooked beans. Lentils are also really good with 9 grams per 1/2 cup.
  • Vegetables have protein too. Asparagus, broccoli, brussell sprouts, cauliflower, and watercress all have 3 grams of protein per 3.5 oz or roughly 1/2 cup. Baked potatoes also have protein coming in at roughly 4 grams.
  • Nuts & Seeds. High in fat and calories, these are used more like a condiment; sprinkled on a salad, over stir-fry, or a small handful for a snack.

- Peanut Butter (2 Tbsp.) has 8 grams
- Almonds (1/4 cup) has 8 grams
- Peanuts (1/4 cup) has 9 grams
- Cashews (1/4 cup) has 5 grams
- Pecans (1/4 cup) has 2.5 grams
- Sunflower seeds (1/4 cup) 6 grams
- Pumpkins seeds (1/4 cup) have 19 grams!
- Flax seeds (1/4 cup) is 8 grams

Nuts and seeds are high in fat & calories, so even a quarter cup could be more than you would want to use.

  • Fruits have some protein. Kiwi, banana, blackberries, grapes, mangos, oranges are about 1 gram per cupof fruit.
  • Grains were a surprising source. I thought they’d be just carbohydrates. Quinoa is a protein rich grain at 24 grams, and also has essential amino acids. Other grains to try are Amaranth (28 grams), Oats, (26 grams), Teff (25 grams), Buckwheat (22grams) and Millet (22 grams). These measurements are for one cup of uncooked grain, which would normally yield 3 cups of cooked grain.

When cooking grains, especially quinoa, rinse the grain well before you cook it. There is a coating that if left on will leave the quinoa with a "soapy" after-taste. Rinsing any grain helps to break down the outer coating and allow even cooking.

  • Soy is high in protein. Tofu has 9-20 grams per 1/2 cup, depending on if it is firm, extra-firm, silken or soft. Most meat substitutes are made from soybeans, so these are naturally high in protein. Tempeh is another soy-based substitute.
  • Seitan is made from wheat gluten and is often used in meat alternatives, providing 15 grams of protein for every 4 ounces (1/2 cup). Quorn and other companies make meat alternatives using wheat & egg whites, but you'd have to read package labels to get the protein content for those.

But How Much Protein Do We Really Need?

I read somewhere that average person needs 0.8 grams per 2.2 pounds of body weight. An easy conversion (and close approximation) is to divide your body weight by 3. For example:

  • A man weighing 180 pounds would need about 60 grams of protein.
  • A woman weighing 140 would need around 47 grams.

When eating 3-4 times a day,this means men would need about 15-20 grams per meal, women a little less at 12-15 grams.

It doesn’t seem difficult to get this amount when you look at all the available protein sources listed. Even if you were to make a sandwich with hummus and veggies - the bread, the hummus and the veggies all have available protein. Protein is literally everywhere.

Next time, I will share with you a virtual trip through the grocery store to find substitutions for the most common food items, especially dairy, butter and milk just to name a few.

Laura Biehler
Guest Contributor

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