There is a popular misconception that “meat” is the only real source of protein and thus a vegetarian diet is inherently unhealthy due to its’ lack of protein. That statement could not be further from the truth. A vegetarian diet can be both nutrient dense and satisfying and with a little extra attention it can also be low in carbohydrates.
The recommended daily allowance for protein is not as high as one might think. Most people eat more protein than their bodies actually need. Bariatric patients’ protein needs can range anywhere from 40-100 grams of protein per day depending on weight, gender, age and surgical procedure. If you are eating eggs and dairy products, consuming enough protein is not as difficult as it may seem, but even a vegan diet can be adequate in protein if it is well planned out.
Vegetarian protein falls into a few different categories including: ovo, lacto, ovo-lacto and vegan diets. Each group can be nutrient dense, but some more than others. An ovo vegetarian diet incorporates eggs, but no dairy, fish or meat. Ovo sources of protein come from eggs. Ovo vegetarians should not worry about not consuming quality protein. Eggs have the highest biological value of any protein, which essentially means that they contain all the essential amino acids necessary to make a protein source complete. Eggs are also a good source of B12, choline, vitamin A and vitamin D. If eggs are selected from hens that eat a varied diet, the nutrient content of the egg will be even higher. Each eggs supplies 6-7 grams of protein and <1 gram of carbohydrate. Eggs are very versatile as they can be used in a recipe or cooked in many different forms.
The lacto vegetarian diet is also a nutritionally adequate diet, although for any diet plan to be optimal it must be varied. Lacto vegetarian foods include: yogurt and cheese. These foods are excellent sources of low carbohydrate protein. They also supply calcium, an important nutrient for weight loss and riboflavin. The lacto vegetarian foods require a little more attention than the ovo vegetarian foods. Again, variety is the key to supply all the necessary amino acids. You also want to make sure the yogurt or cheese does not have added sugars or a high fat content. The protein content of some of these foods are as follows: 1/2 cup cottage cheese supplies around 15 grams of protein; a serving of plain, nonfat greek yogurt contains 12-17 grams of protein; soft cheese contains 6 grams per ounce and hard cheese up to 10 grams per ounce. As you see dairy can be a good source of low fat, low carbohydrate protein. A third type of vegetarian diet is called a lacto-ovo diet. This diet is nutritionally adequate as it incorporates both dairy and egg.
The final category is the vegan diet. This diet is a little tricky, because it eliminates all animal products, including: dairy, eggs, fish, and meat (including poultry, beef, pork, etc.). A vegan diet requires a lot of variety, because the proteins are not complete. The biggest source of protein in most vegan diets is soy. Soybeans are a generally low carbohydrates, high fiber source of protein. Soy also supplies iron, vitamin K, magnesium, copper, manganese and riboflavin. They also contain a variety of phytonutrients. Soybeans are versatile as they can be eaten right out of the pod, dried, in the form of tofu or as soy milk. One cup of cooked soybeans contains 29 grams of protein, 10 grams of fiber and 7 grams of net carbohydrates. Tofu is very versatile as it can be prepared in so many different ways. Tofu is also great for post bariatric surgical diets because it is soft and easy to digest. Typically, tofu contains around 10-20 grams of protein and only 2 grams of net carbohydrates per cup. It takes of the flavor of whatever it is cooked with.
Although soy milk does start with soy, it is important to carefully read the nutrient label, because soy milk often has added sugars, and therefore it is too high in carbohydrates. Vegetarian protein comes in many other forms, some more processed, some less, including: seitan (wheat protein), TVP (textured vegetable protein from soy), hemp protein, soy protein powder, vegetable burgers, and pea protein powder. We often hear of beans, legumes and nuts/seeds being a good source of protein, but unfortunately these foods also come along with added carbohydrates, fat or both.
As you see, a vegetarian diet can be a part of a bariatric lifestyle. It will take a little creativity and diligence, but it is possible. Keep in mind that people who follow a vegetarian lifestyle have been shown to carry a lower body weight, have better cholesterol levels, have greater longevity, and have a lower risk of developing cancer. So consider giving tofu a try…you might like it!