One of the most common questions I receive from clients who choose to decrease meat in their diet is, “What is the best replacement for animal protein?” The short answer to that question is, “Nothing.” You see, there is no real replacement for the fats and proteins that meat can offer, and most replacement or fake meats contain too many additives and preservatives to warrant being healthy. The good news, though, is there are plenty of ways to get proteins without eating meat.
Now, let me start by reminding you that Ayurveda does not subscribe to a solely vegetarian diet. Each person is different based on his or her constitution, genetic predispositions, and age. Climate and geography also play a large role in what one should eat. For example, if you lived in the mountains of Colorado in the middle of winter, it would be quite difficult to maintain a sustainable plant-based diet because most above ground vegetables won’t naturally grow at that time. And if you lived on an island in the South Pacific, the body wouldn’t need red meat in such a warm temperate climate, as the agriculture mostly produces cooling tropical fruits, vegetables and fish.
Ayurvedic philosophy does not generally extract and isolate specific macronutrients like proteins. Instead, the qualities and energetics of food are used to determine what is best for the body. That said, in the interest of explaining how to support a plant-based diet from an Ayurvedic perspective, I will refer to modern nutrition to create an integrative approach to health and diet.
Here are a few points to consider, from both Ayurvedic and nutritional perspectives if you want to reduce or eliminate animal protein from your diet.
1. According to Harvard Health, the average adult needs somewhere between 0.36-.54 grams/pound per day depending on his or her activity levels.
That means a 150 lb person would need 54-81 grams/day of protein.
2. Ayurveda recommends keeping some foods that are high in proteins in the diet, like yogurt (12g/cup), milk (8g/cup) and/or coconut milk (5g/cup). These types of foods nourish all the tissues and organs of the body. But this should only be adhered to by those who can tolerate those foods and/or have the ability to digest them.
3. The following foods are rich in protein and can be incorporated into a plant-based diet:
Split yellow mung beans –14.5 grams/cup
Red and green lentils – 18 grams/cup
Most green vegetables – 4-8 grams/cup
Almonds – 7 grams/¼ cup
4. In Ayurveda, soybeans (24 g/cup) are a protein-rich food that is cold and damp in nature. We recommend it for those who have a strong digestion and do not eat animal proteins. In its natural state, like the actual soybean, it can provide good nourishment. Tofu is minimally processed, but like anything, when it is overly processed, like soy milk and soy based meats, it becomes inflammatory.
5. You may have heard that eating rice and beans together will create a complete protein. What that means is that when they are cooked together, they offer amino acids; one of the building blocks of protein. The total protein consumed is almost doubled when compared to eating just beans alone. Ayurveda supports this way of getting protein in the diet by creating a soup of mung beans and rice, (27 g/cup) otherwise known as kicharee, to be eaten regularly.
So, if you are interested in adopting a plant-based diet, be sure to balance your meals with all the six tastes as well as adopting the above suggestions for adding healthy, plant-based proteins to your diet.