“How do you get protein?”
If you’re a vegetarian (or vegan), you have heard this question more than a time or two. I always respond with some combination of the following: “It’s actually not hard,” “I’ve always been perfectly healthy,” followed by probably what they want to hear: “Beans, nuts, dairy, and the occasional eggs and tofu.”
Fun story: When I was 14, I started dating my husband. I had already been a vegetarian for a year, and for some reason that I cannot now comprehend, I told him that I planned to eat meat while pregnant.
Guess who remembered that 13 years later when I actually became pregnant? I had to remind him that I wasn’t holding him to what he promised as a 17-year-old. The thought of meat is especially repulsive when you throw morning sickness into the mix. (Why didn’t my 14-year-old self factor this in when making such confident statements about something she knew zero about?!) So I was relieved when my doctor assured me I was doing fine in the protein department.
Protein was not something I regularly thought about until my current pregnancy. As I emerged from the white carb-loading black hole that is the first trimester, I picked up the book When You’re Expecting Twins, Triplets, or Quads: Proven Guidelines for a Healthy Multiple Pregnancy.
I’d been acting as if my twin pregnancy was the same as my previous singleton ones, but quickly learned otherwise.
The authors, Dr. Barbara Luke and Tamara Eberlein, stress the importance of protein, suggesting 175 grams a day. (They do believe you can stay a vegetarian if you do it right. They aren’t so high on veganism when carrying multiples.) I immediately became one of those well-meaning people freaking out about vegetarians and protein. Eating and eating the right things became like a job. I aimed for 100 grams of protein a day that I could calculate knowing that I’d end up with more because I wasn’t crunching numbers on everything that went into my mouth (and let’s be honest, my portions are on the bigger size).
So, if you eat mainly plant-based and want to up your protein or happen to just be curious about how a vegetarian (lacto-ovo in my case) hits the 100 gram mark, here you go:
Other protein-rich foods that I often incorporate into my diet include the following:
- Cottage cheese (I could write a love letter alone to these pancakes by Weelicious.)
- Protein bars (such as Come Ready Nutrition Clean Protein Bars–15 grams each–that I get at Costco)
- Tofu (My whole family loves this basic tofu recipe from Cookie+Kate.)
- Quinoa/farro (Pinch of Yum has this easy and delicious recipe)
- Beans/lentils (Meatless Monday or Taco Tuesday ideas: we love this lentil taco recipe from Self Magazine and these black bean tacos from Cooking Classy)
- Eggs and dairy
- I also drink Carnation Instant Breakfast or Ensure shakes, but do not plan to do that other than during this pregnancy.
If you really must ask a vegetarian a nutrition question, a better one could be, “What do you do about iron?” My blood work just showed I’m slightly anemic, so time to shift some of my meal planning attention from protein to iron!
(Things I feel like I need to add: I am not a nutritionist and other than making sure I’m being reasonable, I don’t calculate calories or fat, pregnant or not.)