The most common questions I get asked as a vegan concern protein intake. Most everyone has seen the food pyramids: those colorful totem poles of what we should be eating on a daily basis. They provided (mis) guided directives back in the day. Food guides actually started in 1916 and have been updated numerous times up until the latest 2011 U.S. Government issued ChooseMyPlate. Now, however, as more people are enlightened about the benefits of vegetables, the pyramid has evolved into a plate with the suggestion of a higher intake of vegetables and grains. Sides matter more is what they are telling us.
Most traditional restaurant menus list some combination of appetizers, mains or entrees, (“proteins” on the trendy menus), sides and/or vegetables and bases/carbs/starches. In the Standard American Diet animal protein takes center stage, while sides of all types take second and third place.
The vegan diet takes sides to a different place – all over the plate! All of my choices are mains. My broccoli has equal footing with my tofu and black beans and cabbage on the same plate. My salad, soup and eight grain bread are welcoming each other. There is no star of the show or understudy – it is a team effort. Proteins are found in many foods such as red kidney beans, black-eyed peas, collard greens, quinoa, soy, green beans, oatmeal, peanut butter and edamame. The list is long. True, the density and type of protein is different in plant vs. animal protein. You can easily research the protein content of your favorite vegetables. Replace meat with a few veggies. Add two cups of lentils or chick peas to chunk up your pasta sauce. Make your lasagna with zucchini, fresh chopped tomato, eggplant and spinach. Leave out the ricotta. If you indulge in that vegan mac and cheese make it up at the next meal by doubling your veggies.
Many “sides” have a protein component. Think outside the (animal protein) box. You don’t always have to combine beans and rice, which is the classic example of creating a “complete” protein. Even vegans talk the “sides” talk. Walk the veggie walk. Have four or five sides for dinner. Have three for lunch and two for breakfast. Stop relegating your veggies to the sides of your plate. Your protein will show up in a myriad of unexpected and delicious ways.
Here is some vegan humor to help you along the way:
Why did the tomato blush bright red?
It saw the salad dressing.
Why did the tofu cross the road?
To prove it wasn’t chicken.