When you tell a stranger that you’re a vegetarian, the first question out of their mouth is usually, “So, where do you get your protein?”  The next statement is, “I could never do that,” but I hope my blog illustrates that being a veg isn’t that hard or boring!


While I believe protein is an important part of your diet (especially if you’re really active), it’s certainly not the end-all-be-all.  Most vegetarians who eat a varied and healthy diet easily meet the daily requirements as recommended by the government, which is 40 – 70 grams (depending on your gender, weight, and activity level).


Personally, I think our obsession with protein is a leftover from the Atkins age/a meat and dairy industry conspiracy.  If you’re rolling your eyes right now at my paranoia, check out In Defense of Food.  Another awesome resource is No Meat Athlete’s Vegetarian Guide. He really breaks it all down on a scientific level.


Fun fact: this breakfast has 20 grams of protein in it!  Roughly the same as a 3 ounce piece of fish.


French toast made with Ezekiel bread, topped with baked apples.


Off to run and then work.  🙁


At least it’s gorgeous outside…


Spring is right around the corner!  I can smell it in the air.



  • Katie @ peacebeme February 19, 2011, 9:43 am

    I can go both ways on this, but I do think people don’t realize how much protein can be in “carb-like” foods! Bagels, for instance, usually have 10g, even just your normal bagel.

    • Caitlin February 19, 2011, 9:45 am

      yup, exactly!

  • Alex @ Healing Beauty February 19, 2011, 10:08 am

    Great post! My mom’s side of the family is Romanian aka very meat and potatoes and they definitely do not understand why I’m a vegetarian (I don’t have the heart to tell them I’m now a vegan but that’s a different story). I get the “so you eat fish, right?” question a lot as well as the “where do you get your protein?” They don’t realize that you can get protein from other sources that aren’t meat!

  • Amanda (Eating Up) February 19, 2011, 10:13 am

    I can’t wait for spring! 🙂

  • Gina February 19, 2011, 10:15 am

    Peanut flour for me! It has an amazing 16 grams of protein and I love it 🙂

  • Marie-JourneytoBodyZen February 19, 2011, 10:16 am

    Thanks for this post. As a new vegetarian, I get asked this question a lot!

  • AJ @ Flowing to Fifty February 19, 2011, 10:19 am

    I have spring-envy!! Love the breakfast idea.

  • Kristen @ That Hoosier Girl February 19, 2011, 10:19 am

    I agree that there still tends to be a ton of focus on protein in our society. After watching Food, Inc., it made me realize that I think people equate affordability of animal protein with the reasoning that it must mean you should eat it all the time. If you think back to before commericalization days, our anscestors certainly did not eat nearly the amount of animal protein that we have come to think of as “normal.”

    • vikki February 19, 2011, 6:52 pm

      I don’t know that I agree with this statement. It may be true of some of our ancestors, but not for all. Certainly not for our earliest ancestors. Farming was a fairly late invention in human development. I’m sure they ate off the land as well, but game was quite plentiful in those days because there were fewer humans to bring down the animal population.

  • Rachel @ healthyteacherblog February 19, 2011, 10:21 am

    When I hear people are vegetarians I don’t wonder anything. Vegan is when I wonder how they survive because I am terribly addicted to dairy! Maybe people ask you because they’re addicted to meat and can’t see how to eat without it.

  • Ashley February 19, 2011, 10:22 am

    I get kind of sick of those questions. ‘so how long have you..what made you decide too…why do you…what do you eat..how do you get protein..I could never do that.’ And of course there are some infamous crude ‘meat eating’ jokes that just make me want to vomit, the proclamations that what I’m doing is wrong and I’m unhealthy, and it’s not natural. After all that I get the unrealistic scenarios. ‘If the world was covered in hot lava and you were the only one who survived, and there are no plants, and you’re trapped in a box made of meat would you eat it.’ Ummmm…. Thank you for this post your breakfast looks delicious. :d

    • Kerry February 19, 2011, 11:13 am

      Totally agree with your comment. I am more conscious of where I get my macronutrients and as a result, it is balanced. Everyone – veg and non- should also.

    • Jessica @ Jessica Balances February 19, 2011, 11:34 am

      I can imagine that those questions would get annoying after a while, but for some non-vegetarians (like myself), your lifestyle is interesting and we want to know more about it. I tend to ask lots of questions just because vegetarianism is something that fascinates me — and I honestly respect the choices that you make. 🙂 However, I would never ask the “hot lava” question… that is odd!

      • Ashley February 19, 2011, 1:27 pm

        I love when people are genuinely curious, and I am happy to share my lifestyle. I welcome all questions that are respectful and from people who want to learn. The comments that I mentioned though are usually very mean spirited and ignorantly stated. It’s very difficult to find people who are tolerant of my choices where I grew up, and I got my feelings hurt quite often.

        • Amy February 19, 2011, 2:21 pm

          Right, I imagine it’s more of an “Ew, why would you do THAT?” tone, as opposed to the more reasoned, “what made you decide to become veg?” – I can see why that would be frustrating.

  • Caitlin G. February 19, 2011, 10:22 am

    I definitely agree that people think we need way more protein than we truly do! As someone who eats a mainly vegan diet, the number one question I get is “So what DO you eat?” Uhh.. everything else! How easily people forget about all the wonderful food options out there 🙂

  • Elizabeth@The Sweet Life February 19, 2011, 10:22 am

    I just had my iron and B12 tested and both were excellent. As a vegan, I was completely surprised—guess it’s easier to get nutrients than I thought!!

  • Beth @ Beth's Journey to Thin February 19, 2011, 10:23 am

    Enjoy your day Caitlin! It’s beautiful here in DC but it is SO windy. I can’t decide whether to do my 9 miles today or wait til tomorrow because of the wind!

  • Nicole February 19, 2011, 10:33 am

    Awesome post! I totally agree with everything you said- especially the meat and dairy conspiracy thing. Glad I’m not the only one! 😉

  • Holly @ Couch Potato Athlete February 19, 2011, 10:41 am

    I think many people think of protein as “meat” — but there is protein (and other nutrients!) in other foods as well. I don’t eat dairy much so I get the “what about calcium” question quite a bit!

  • Ann @ Day By Day February 19, 2011, 10:43 am

    Haha my Mom asked me yesterday how I get enough protein, since I don’t eat meat! I gave her the basic idea, but couldn’t explain it as easily as you did. I’ll show her your post. Thanks!

  • Jasmine @ Eat Move Write February 19, 2011, 10:44 am

    I completely agree with you. We are protein obsessed and it’s just not necessary to consume it at the level most people think.

  • Clare @ Fitting It All In February 19, 2011, 10:44 am

    An important, great post. It’s definitely the first question I get asked, and I like to remind people that plants sources are fantastic sources of protein…meat isn’t the only way!

  • Camille February 19, 2011, 10:47 am

    I recently did a project for one of my nutrition classes about recommended intakes of protein vs. what you actually need and it was pretty shocking. I always thought that I didn’t get enough protein, but it turns out that for my bmi, activity level, and taking my vegetarian lifestyle in to account, I was actually getting more than enough.

  • alli February 19, 2011, 10:49 am

    i used to think that too, until i started tracking how much protein i ate. when i was pregnant i followed the the brewer pregnancy diet (at least how many of grams of protein to eat-not certain foods to eat) but i hardly ate any meat during the pregnancy and most days i was getting upwards of 80 grams of protein!

  • Sarena (The Non Dairy Queen) February 19, 2011, 10:53 am

    You know I love the baked apples! YUM! I eat a lot of beans and really there is protein in plants and grains. I think peoples obsession with eating meat has gone over board. I don’t disagree with people eating meat, but if you go back to the way I think it was intended, it should be eaten on occasion, not at every meal. I don’t eat meat by choice, but my family does, so I prepare it, but they have started eating mostly vegetarian and they are loving it! Even my little guys.

  • Stacy @ Every Little Thing February 19, 2011, 10:54 am

    I think it’s entirely possible that as an American society, we’re overdoing it on the protein and not focusing enough on nutrients! I think most Americans get plenty of protein daily, considering how much cheese and bread we eat.

  • Emily February 19, 2011, 10:54 am

    Agree that people can be weird about protein. In the UK people, on average, eat three times the amount of protein their body actually needs. I imagine it is similar in the US.

    This means people get a distorted view of how much protein is necessary for your body to do all the stuff it needs to do.

    Veggie protein sources are not that hard to find at all.

  • Erin February 19, 2011, 11:00 am

    My CrossFit trainer is huge into the whole no-grains diet which, while it includes carbs in the form of fruits and veggies, is basically protein only (and doesn’t include nuts o beans!). Every weight lifting/strength training book I’ve read recently is the same way. I’m in your camp, though, and think that people should eat a more balanced diet.

  • Elizabeth February 19, 2011, 11:12 am

    I love this post!! I’ve been vegetarian for four years this month and I get asked that question constantly, especially with a mom and a sister who think protein is the cure all for everything. I just say every body is different and mine functions best without 200 grams of protein a day.

  • Allison February 19, 2011, 11:17 am

    While I agree with what you are saying you also want to pay attention to complete proteins, ensuring your body is getting all of its essential amino acids. You may have 20 grams of protein pictured above but it doesn’t necessarily mean its complete. You don’t have to intake meat in order to do this but including complete sources ie beans, quinoa, etc is important!

  • courtney @ the granola chronicles February 19, 2011, 11:18 am

    Thanks for sharing the protein amount of your breakfast. I think a lot of people just correlate protein with meat, but meat is not the only source!

  • Allie February 19, 2011, 11:31 am

    Protein is everywhere 🙂 It is annoying when people pick on vegetarians for not getting protein!

  • megan @ blackberries for jam February 19, 2011, 11:32 am

    While I do eat meat on occasion when I go out to eat, at home I eat mostly vegetarian and sometimes completely vegan. When I first started running a few years ago I became more conscious of the amount of protein I was eating, and at the time I don’t think I was getting enough (granted, my vegetarian diet lacked adequate protein sources such as beans, etc.). I was also having irregular periods. But when I made an effort to get more protein (through vegetarian sources) and also drank a protein shake most days to fuel my training, my period regulated itself! I don’t think it was a coincidence that it was related to getting more protein (I also read about this in Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guide). Anyway, sorry for the wordy comment, but to get back to your original point, you’re totally right that vegetarian diets can supply adequate amounts of protein as long as you make a point to eat a balanced diet (of course that goes for non-vegs too).

  • Lauren February 19, 2011, 11:40 am

    I’m taking a college level health and nutrition class right now and we’re talking about protein. It turns out most people hugely overestimate the amount of protein a person needs. Someone else mentioned the importance of complete proteins and while that’s true, you can combine incomplete proteins and it’s just as good as eating a complete meat protein plus soy and quinoa are both complete proteins and they’re plant based. Score!

  • sue February 19, 2011, 11:46 am

    I don’t know a vegetarian that didn’t say “I could never do that” unless they were raised that way. As for me I prefer to eat in, I really hate seeing menus that don’t have any veggie friendly meals. I’m sick of veggie wraps and garden burgers. If my money isn’t good enough for you, then forget you.

  • Katy (The Singing Runner) February 19, 2011, 11:47 am

    I get this all the time! People would be amazed how much protein you can get in plant based foods. I am taking a nutrition class right now as a pre-req for grad school and I was AMAZED by all of the protein you can get from plants! 🙂

  • Jen @ keepitsimplefoods February 19, 2011, 11:48 am

    Agreed! There are plenty of other ways to get protein without eating meat. I eat a healthy diet of nuts and beans which are satisfying, healthy, and provide ample protein. It also gives me peace if mind to follow a meat free diet.

  • Melissa February 19, 2011, 11:49 am

    While I definitely do agreed with you that there is a little too much “hype” surrounding protein, a protein deficiency is a VERY real possibility. I, myself, experienced it, complete with swollen feet, muscle atrophy, etc. I cannot stress the importance of protein in one’s daily regimen. Please make it a point maintain a sufficient amount of protein in your food intake.

  • Ella February 19, 2011, 11:59 am

    My roommates are obsessed with high protein low carb diets (which aren’t that good for you, actually) and they’re always like well where do you get your protein, i would dieee without my protein..well actually, protein overload can hurt your kidneys. i’m not even a big fan of tofu and i get at least 50 grams a day..so..

  • Diana tries a tri February 19, 2011, 12:09 pm

    I get this question constantly! My first instinct is just to ask, “why do you care?!” Haha, I honestly don’t understand why they ask. You can find surprising amounts of protein in things. People are just so convinced that protein is only in meat! Oh man, that french toast looks so good!

  • Lauren February 19, 2011, 12:11 pm

    A vegetarian diet can have tons of high-quality protein in it, but I’ve also known vegetarians who rely on pasta and carbs way too much. Falafel & chickpeas are my favorite veggie protein!

    • Jen February 19, 2011, 12:34 pm

      I love chickpeas! Non-meat protein is a great way to save some money too; a huge bag of chickpeas or lentils lasts so much longer and is far less expensive than a package of chicken.

  • Samantha @ Health, Happiness & Skinny Jeans February 19, 2011, 12:17 pm

    While I agree that vegetarians can get adequate protein I think my main concern is calories associated with getting it. Don’t get me wrong, your breakfast looks absolutely delicious but I am sure it has significantly more calories than the fish you mentioned. Protein isn’t the end-all-be-all and neither are calories but realistically part of a healthy lifestyle is maintaining a healthy weight and good muscle tone so both become important in that sense.

    Again, not at all knocking vegetarian eating (I eat a lot of meat free meals) but I thought I should mention this point too.

  • Tina February 19, 2011, 12:23 pm

    I haven’t had meat in almost 6 years and have not suffered from any nutritional deficiencies. My blood work always comes back stellar. The proof is in the pudding! (tofu pudding preferably). A well-rounded, well thought out vegetarian or vegan diet will provide you with all the nutrition you need! Great post!

  • Katherine: Unemployed February 19, 2011, 12:26 pm

    let’s make spring now! love it

  • kathleen February 19, 2011, 12:27 pm

    gr. when is the old way of thinking going to change? as long as you eat enough calories, you’re getting enough protein. even eating 2,000kcal a day of nothing but fruit and veggies will yield 40g of protein.

  • Kara February 19, 2011, 12:33 pm

    Do you feel like being rude when someone asks you that question? Because I would totally answer: “Semen is high in protein” with a straight face, just to see their reaction. 🙂

  • Miranda February 19, 2011, 12:37 pm

    I do find a lot of people are more concerned about protein. I had someone tell me they couldn’t train for a half marathon because they didn’t think they ate enough protein, lol.

  • Deva (Voracious Vorilee) February 19, 2011, 12:39 pm

    I agree that many of us over-estimate our protein needs, but I know that for myself, personally, if I don’t eat a protein-rich diet to support my activity levels (running AND heavy-lifting strength training), than I am constantly eating everything in sight while simultaneously craving protein-dense foods. I do agree that balance is important, but I also believe that each individual needs to take into consideration what they have found works best for them in terms of that balance. For me, it is lots of fruit and veggies, whole grains, low sugar, and higher protein.

  • Lauren February 19, 2011, 12:47 pm

    I think people are so quick to rule off vegetarians as being protein deficient but fail to realize how much protein there is in other sources of food other than meat.

  • Julie @ Shining From Within February 19, 2011, 12:51 pm

    Great post! Most people who aren’t even vegetarian probably don’t get enough protein. I find myself getting more protein than I ever did as a carnivore just because I’m more aware of what my body needs of a daily basis. I’d bet my bottom dollar I get more protein in my diet than any carnivore out there.
    That’s a awesome breakfast too! No better way to start your day than with fruit + a protein punch. =)

  • Parita@myinnershakti February 19, 2011, 12:59 pm

    I get that question ALL the time! I think that it’s a good idea for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians to understand the different types of proteins and how they complement and complete one another. That’s what I’m trying to focus on anyways because I know I eat protein-rich foods…now I just want to make sure I get complete proteins!

  • Kris February 19, 2011, 1:09 pm

    I’m always amazed at women who are so proud of daily protein intake in excess of 100 grams. The American diet is typically excessively high in protein, fat, salt, sugar. It’s work to pay attention to what we eat, but utlimately, so worth to keep everything in balance. I’m not a vegetarian, but eat little meat and am generally a light eater so I try to pay attention to make sure my intake is quality.

  • Kristin February 19, 2011, 1:28 pm

    The New Rules of Lifting for Women makes an excellent point for going above the ‘minimum’ of protein: “If you took the anti-protein argument to other areas of your life, and define “need” as the bare minimum for survival, you’d quit your job (you don’t need to work that hard to afford enough food to keep from starving), you’d move out of your home and into your storage shed (all you need is protection from the elements), you’d throw out all your possessions aside from one set of clothes (you can only wear one set at a time so why have more?), and of course you’d only eat enough food to avoid starvation – which works out nicely, since that’s all you can afford now”

  • Jessica @ The Process of Healing February 19, 2011, 1:30 pm

    I’ve gotten into arguments with people over the protein issue..

  • Amber K February 19, 2011, 1:30 pm

    There is certainly a lot of protein in carb-y things. Unfortunately my protein levels have lowered a lot since haven’t to go gluten-free. I just don’t crave or need as much bready things so I’m struggling to get to my goal of at least 50 grams a day.

    Greek yogurt definitely helps, as well as beans and nuts. But I’m also trying to lose a couple, so trimming back on calories while keeping a decent protein level has been a bit tricky lately.

  • Mary @ Bites and Bliss February 19, 2011, 2:14 pm

    I was constantly asked where I would get enough protein when giving up red meat..but the fact that even the 40-70 grams recommended with way more than what we actually need..and I still get even more than that! My favorite sources are tuna, eggs, and yogurt. 🙂

  • Jenna February 19, 2011, 2:23 pm

    I think this is such a great post Caitlin. I didn’t realize how many foods are good sources of protein until I was trying to lose weight and cut out fatty red meats. I’m not a vegetarian but I love how well you demonstrate that being a vegetarian doesn’t mean you’re going to have iron and protein deficiencies.

  • Ellie@fitforthesoul February 19, 2011, 3:03 pm

    I’m not veg. simply b/c I do love meat like FISH! I eat meat every now and then (mostly fish/chicken), but the older I get and as I’m in the blogosphere (inspired by y’all) the less meat I consume. Also, I’ve been noticing that meat is one of the main culprits for my tummy problems. So that gives me a great incentive to not lean much towards it anymore. So all in all, I still get a lot of protein from non-meat foods. 🙂 Such as…hummus, beans, nuts!!! Certain grains~BARS! haha too many to name.

  • monicanelsonfitness February 19, 2011, 3:13 pm

    Yes, I get asked this I feel like at least once a week!
    Glad you posted it!

  • Rika February 19, 2011, 3:22 pm

    I love reading your blog for meal ideas (well, and for the content and your persona, too)! I’m a vegetarian who’s currently experimenting with veganism but people usually don’t ask me about getting enough protein. 😀 Maybe it’s because we’re college kids and kids my age are usually not concerned about health yet, hehe.

  • Ashley February 19, 2011, 3:30 pm

    beautiful flowers! It’s gorgeous out in Tucson right now, too!

  • Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) February 19, 2011, 3:35 pm

    I think one of the most important posts any vegan/veggie/plant based blogger can do is tackle the “so where do you get your protein” question. I tackled it a year or so ago on my blog and have all kinds of charts, info, extra special protein-rich recipe links, but really, as long as you’re eating a balanced diet, i dont believe one has to go to ridiculous lengths to ensure you’re “getting enough”. Pretty much what you do and advocate!

  • Heidi - apples under my bed February 19, 2011, 4:05 pm

    Exactly! It really is not that hard to reach your recommended daily intake of protein. Quinoa is a great source, as it’s a ‘complete protein’. Dairy is also the bomb, as are legumes and nuts.
    Heidi xo

  • kristin February 19, 2011, 5:13 pm

    i hate hate hate when people ask me that question!

  • Devon @FastFoodie February 19, 2011, 5:22 pm

    I think you should read “Good Calorie, Bad Calorie” by Gary Taubes (which Michael Pollen endorses). I definitely don’t think that most people are hurting in the protein department even vegetarians and vegans. However, I don’t necessarily think low-carb advocates are necessarily a part of a conspiracy. Obesity and diabetes have been linked to a high refined carbohydrate diet and the low-carb lifestyle is a push back against that. Good Calorie, Bad Calorie goes over all the science of both the anti-fat movement (low fat diet movement) and the low-carb lifestyle and lets the chips fall where they may. Frankly, I think everyone would benefit from a more balanced diet and a less grain based diet.

  • amber February 19, 2011, 6:06 pm

    The interesting thing about being veg is the question that they ask about the protein. Because I am very interested in the subject, and Americans eat 2-3 times more protein than they need each day. And so when I tell people this, they say “Yay! Protein!”. The truth of the matter is that too much protein is bad for you, and lead to issues with the liver. It also can be too fatty, which everyone knows is not good. I love how Americans are so into being thin, but don’t identify meat as the enemy.

  • Katie @ Healthy Heddleston February 19, 2011, 7:03 pm

    Most Americans actually eat wayyy over the amount of protein recommended .. so I’ve never understood why some people are so obsessed with it and add it into drinks and every meal.

  • Clare February 19, 2011, 7:06 pm

    James = Master Yoda 🙂

  • lauren February 19, 2011, 8:36 pm

    Hahaha, that is totally true about those being the first two things people say when they find out you’re a vegetarian!

  • JessicaR February 19, 2011, 9:03 pm

    As someone who has lifted weights for years, unfortunately, I see a big difference when I eat, say, 50g of protein a day versus 100-150g. (I’m around 135lbs.) I wish I didn’t because I hate having to be conscious of how much protein I eat, but I do 🙁 My muscles just look firmer and I am able to put on muscle easier when I eat more protein. I may be the exception to the rule though!

  • chelsey @ clean eating chelsey February 19, 2011, 9:38 pm

    I have done a protein post in the past, and I really think I do get enough protein. Could I get more? Probably, but I’m doing just fine right now!

  • Kathie February 20, 2011, 9:42 am

    GREAT post!

  • Lauren February 20, 2011, 10:59 am

    I remember in school we had to write a paper about the my that vegetarians/vegans don’t get enough protein. If you’re not trying to build mass amounts of muscle you don’t really need the added protein from supplements! It’s always better to just eat food 🙂 Great post, Caitlin.

  • Lisa February 20, 2011, 5:43 pm

    One of the reasons I was a failure at being a vegetarian was because I never really tried to get in the protein I needed while I wasn’t eating meat. I definitely wasn’t healthy!

  • BB February 21, 2011, 1:47 am

    This question is even worse when you’re vegan, and its always followed by something like “ohhhhhh I could never do that, I looooove cheese just too much!” Sigh. Also the information on protein intake from the government comes from the beef lobbyists, who have grossly inflated the number of grams you need. Also, where you wote “gender”, I think you meant sex…

  • Suzanne February 21, 2011, 9:53 am

    This is really in my mind right now after just finishing the book The China Study. Have you done a review on it yet? Have I missed it? (I remember you were reading it recently.) Brilliant book in my opinion, just what I needed. I’m vegetarian, and dabbling with being a vegan.

    • Caitlin February 21, 2011, 10:47 am

      I’m trying to plow through it but its so hard! It’s very dense.

      • Suzanne February 22, 2011, 7:26 am

        Oh yes I know! It certainly is hard work. I read it every lunchtime at work, it took me weeks! Worth it though, I want everyone to read it!

  • Katy Chen February 21, 2011, 7:49 pm

    ….When you are in a place where you want to lose fat and gain muscle or when you are thinking about seriously working towards bodybuilding youll find that the importance of protein is emphasized to you again and again..You might find that you are told about protein enough that you start rolling your eyes. Yes you know it is the building block of your muscles but the issue is that so few articles will tell you why.

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