Tell someone you are a vegetarian, and the first thing they will ask is, “But where do you get your protein?”
While that question is a good one, it is important to first point out that the U.S. is a nation of protein overachievers. We consume way more protein than is necessary for good health, putting ourselves at risk for kidney disease, osteoporosis, cancer, and kidney stones. There needs to be a balance, with simple ways to get all the nutrients you need, including protein.
Vegetarians in particular need to focus on what is considered a “complete” protein. There are 20 different amino acids that form proteins, nine of which our bodies cannot make. In order for a protein to be considered “complete,” it must offer us those nine amino acids. We don’t need all nine amino acids in every meal, but we need to get them in recommended amounts throughout the day. While animal-based protein is generally considered complete, vegetarians may need to look a little more deeply into their diet.
A vegetarian diet can have significant benefits for pain patients including:
- Weight management: Plant-based diets often help people lose weight, which can be especially helpful for pain patients with joint pain.
- Lowered risk of heart disease: Traditionally farmed meats contain high levels of saturated fats that can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries. Eliminating this protein source lowers this risk substantially.
- Helps with inflammation: A vegan diet in particular (no animal products at all) can significantly reduce inflammation in the body due to dairy or eggs. Vegetarians and vegans following an anti-inflammatory diet may see reduced swelling in the joints.
- Reduce pain through food: There is some indication that pain levels decrease with a vegetarian diet simply because an increase in leafy greens, anti-oxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, and the elimination of animal protein offers pain-relieving benefits. This may be that meat makes the body more acidic, which can trigger pain, while plant-based foods keep the body’s pH more neutral.
When you are ready to give it a try, here are ten ways to build a diet with complete vegetarian proteins to help tip the scales back to good nutrition.
1. Become a weekday vegetarian
Still love meat but want to do your part for your pain, your wallet, and the planet? Consider becoming a weekday vegetarian. This Monday-through-Friday strategy may be just what you need to get more vegetarian proteins in your life without completely giving up your beloved burgers.
2. Lean into the bean
Black beans contain 42 grams of protein per cup, right on par with hamburger at 65 grams per serving. Since healthy men and women only need 56 and 46 grams of protein per day respectively, this portabella and black bean quesadilla is a satisfying way to get nearly all the vegetarian protein you need.
3. Look to the experts
There is a ton of information on health and nutrition, so much that it can be overwhelming and hard to determine what’s best. Look to folks who are already doing it right on blogs, Pinterest, and other online sources before diving into the sea of internet resources.
4. Start with the basics
5. Know your nutritional needs
As stated above, people in the U.S. get carried away with protein. Unless you are an Olympic athlete or champion body builder, you often need way less protein than you think. But what, exactly, do you need? Bone up on your nutrition information, especially if you are living with chronic pain.
6. Shop seasonally
The most nutritious food, vegetarian protein or not, is the food you purchase fresh and in season. Take advantage of new spring potatoes and tender green beans with this delicious recipe for green beans and potatoes in broth. If you are a weekday vegetarian, omit the bacon Monday through Friday, or just save this recipe for a bacon-y weekend lunch. Bonus tip: swap olive oil for the butter for a healthier fat or to make the dish vegan.
7. Don’t miss the essential six
There are six essential nutrients present in a healthy diet, and yes, protein is one of them. Round out your meal planning by knowing the other six.
8. Get to know (and love) your crockpot
Making a dietary change can mean more meal planning for awhile. The time this takes could deter some people from sticking with the change. Don’t be that person. Vegetarian proteins in the crockpot work just as well as a large cut of stewing beef. For chronic pain patients, a healthy, hot vegetarian meal waiting at the end of the day can be a tremendous comfort.
9. Learn about MyPlate guidelines for protein
Portion size is an important part of dietary change, and knowing what you actually need every day can help you figure out how much vegetarian protein is really necessary. Pro tip: brown rice has protein and can satisfy the whole grains portion of a meal while contributing protein.
10. Stick with anti-inflammatory foods
Even as you think about getting enough vegetarian protein in your diet, focus also on selecting anti-inflammatory foods for pain management and relief. There are tons of delicious ways to help your body fight inflammation with a vegetarian diet, and you might as well take advantage of them.
Have you tried becoming a vegetarian for pain management? Which vegetarian proteins worked best for you?