Vegetarianism is gaining in popularity among active individuals. By definition, a vegetarian does not regularly include meat, poultry, fish, or seafood in his or her diet. But the term is broken down further into three subcategories: Lacto-vegetarian, Ovo-lacto vegetarian, and Vegan.
Lacto-vegetarian: A vegetarian who consumes dairy foods, soy, legumes (dried beans and peas), nuts/seeds, fruit, vegetables, and grains.
Ovo-lacto vegetarian: Same as above, plus eggs are added to the list of acceptable foods.
Vegan: A vegetarian who consumes no dairy but eats soy, legumes, nuts/seeds, fruit, vegetables, and grains.
With the exception of soy protein, most plant foods are incomplete protein foods—in other words, they do not contain all the essential amino acids. Not to worry. Since most of us eat a mix of foods at each meal, it is fairly easy to meet the protein requirements. A peanut butter sandwich is a complete protein, but if you just ate peanut butter off the spoon, or just bread as your only food sources for the day, the body would not get all the essential amino acids and would be unable to synthesize new proteins. The bottom line: Vary your diet, even if it's plant-based. Don't just eat all grains or all beans or just nuts and seeds, but include some of each throughout the day. Four tasty examples for how to get complete proteins in vegetarian form: hummus and pita bread; black bean burrito; peanut butter sandwich; red beans and rice.
Dairy foods are complete proteins, so you'll want to incorporate some yogurt, cheese, milk, cottage cheese, or an occasional egg to help meet your needs. If vegetable burgers are your chosen entree, choose the soy ones—they're higher in protein. Remember, vegetarianism can be a healthy lifestyle, as long as when you eliminate the food with a face from your plate, you find an alternative. A new bean, grain, or soy dish will not only keep you healthy; it will keep you happy, too.