Doesn't matter if you are a vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore - you need 50 gr. of protein (men and very active women, you can take that up 5 or 6 gr). Not only that, but you need to complete most of those 50 grams, meaning all or most of the amino acids are present. I write this because most of us who are vegetarians or vegans are NOT getting enough complete proteins and most of us who are omnivores are getting too much and we all need to learn more about making protein adjustments in the right direction for great health, energy and vitality.
Complete proteins (think animal sources: eggs, chicken, beef, dairy...) have all of the amino acids present and incomplete proteins do not. Here's a list of proteins: http://www.herbalvitality.info/list-of-high-protein-foods.htm However, an incomplete protein can be complimented with a source that then makes a complete protein. Beans are an incomplete protein and can be served with rice to make a complete source. When I first became a vegetarian we thought we had to eat the complimentary sources in the same meal, but now we know they must be completed within the same day.
Even though some foods are a complete protein, that does not make them a completely healthy protein. What you need to look for is comparison of nutrients, fats, and protein value and make the optimal choices. So, a 3 oz. beef source is complete, has about 20 gr. of protein, 140-200 calories (depends on the cut), too much fat (the saturated kind) and some necessary B-vitamins. Compare that to 1 cup of milk which is complete, has only 8 gr. of protein, 110-200 calories (depends on fat content), some fat unless it is skim, and a small list of other vitamins and nutrients. Compare to 1/2 cup dry beans (about 1 C cooked) which are not complete, have 8 gr. protein, 122 calories, many vitamins, fiber, and have a long list of health benefits.
It's easy to find good sources of information online and make these same comparisons. Look at the sources of protein in the list above. There are other sources as well. Choose variety! There are healthy oils in nuts and seeds, there are health promoting probiotics in yogurts... if you eat a variety of proteins, you get a variety of nutrients! In a day, you can make just 4 good choices and get 50 grams of protein.
For the omnivores: Looking at beef and other traditional choices, you only need 3 oz. (the size of a deck of cards) to get nearly half the protein needed in a day, so spread the protein around. Most Americans are eating well over that size and getting well over what is needed and lacking in variety. Make beef, dairy, and pork a part-time protein choice. And, choose lower fat versions and cuts. When choosing dairy and meats, I can not stress enough how important it is to make sure your source is hormone and anti-biotic free! No one needs these additional "chemicals" added to their systems!!! This is your chance to create variety and learn to make beans and rice versions of your favorite meals. Try some yogurt as your protein source for lunch and eat fruits and vegetables. Make a morning smoothie and add tofu or whey powder as your protein. The more you try, the more variety you will become aware of.
For the vegans and vegetarians: Be really conscious of a protein source in every meal. Two problems to always consider: making it complete and making it enough. I try to always make the protein complete in the meal, because it makes me aware and attentive. Without enough protein, I am foggy, drained, and un-focused. If you have these symptoms, start really attending to protein needs. If you have nuts or beans, make sure somewhere in the day or in that meal, you have some brown rice or whole wheat flour source. Let's say you have a 1.5 cup serving of rice and beans. Pay attention to how many beans are actually in there. I usually estimate less than half the serving is beans which means I am getting a pretty low amount of protein. So, be aware and attentive to sort of estimating and guessing at numbers. For vegans (and vegetarians who do not eat much dairy or eggs) you really need to supplement with vitamin B-12. Really!! You will notice the difference after supplementing for 2-4 weeks daily.
I recommend that all of us start off by being aware of the proteins we are having in each meal and just start estimating what we're getting. Don't make this a math assignment at every meal, but an awareness exercise. Ask yourself, what is the protein? is it complete? high in calories? high in fat? what other good nutrients are present? how much of this do I really need to eat? Change and experiment with sources and variety.
What protein will be for dinner tonight?