Pete’s protein puzzle

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina MS, RD

Portrait of Vesanto Melina
• After his partner Sue adopted a plant-based diet, Pete decided to give it a try. He thoroughly enjoyed the hearty, nourishing meals that Sue prepared on weekends and the environmental and ethical reasons behind this diet made sense to him. Yet on weekdays he found that his own vegetarian meals or the ones he ate in restaurants or at work were far from satisfying. He sometimes felt like he hadn’t actually had a meal. He kept cookies in his desk drawer and glove compartment and wondered if he was getting the necessary nutrients, especially protein.

Together, Pete and Sue came up with solutions. They began a weekend cooking project in which he learned chef skills and she acted as sous-chef. He liked quick breakfasts and whole grain toast with peanut butter or almond butter and sliced banana gave him a much better start to the day than white toast, margarine and jam. Sometimes he had hot or cold cereal topped with sunflower seeds, nuts, berries and fortified soymilk.


He soon became a stir-fry expert, finding that the possible combinations were endless and that his higher intake of vegetables and brown rice was filling and contributed significant amounts of protein. He added chickpeas or marinated tofu to stir-fries and discovered high protein convenience foods such as seitan, veggie “meats,” hummus and edamame. He tried several brands of veggie burgers and canned soups until finding favourites. Pete began to enjoy what he learned about shopping and cooking. He read labels and stocked up on ready-made vegetarian chili and bean and lentil soups. He added soup making to his skills; black bean soup and pea soup became favourites.

At the company cafeteria he asked the chef if chili and bean or lentil soup could be added to the menu. The chef had received other such requests and complied. Near his office, Pete found a Chinese restaurant with tofu dishes, a Mexican restaurant with pinto and black beans and an East Indian restaurant providing delicious dahl and chickpea entrees and a wealth of vegetable dishes and flat breads. It soon became clear that beans, peas and lentils were keys to sustaining energy levels through the afternoon.

When business trips took him to other cities, Pete explored options through, adding an App for this website to his mobile phone. Soon Pete was going between meals without the drop in blood sugar that made him resort to cookies. He felt so strong and healthy that he started making regular visits to the gym, added muscle to his arms and torso and took in his belt a few notches.

Getting enough protein is easily accomplished with a plant-based diet. Yet menu planning can present challenges until people learn simple, tasty ways to include beans, peas, lentils and/or soy foods in their diets. These high-protein ingredients deliver iron, zinc, all the essential amino acids and other nutrients and they also help stabilize blood glucose. Beyond legumes, there is plenty of protein in vegetables, seeds, nuts and grains.

See the new e-book Cooking Vegetarian (Joseph Forest and Vesanto Melina, Harper Collins) for recipes for delicious, protein rich foods. For outstanding current nutrition information in print, see Becoming Vegetarian (Harper Collins) and Becoming Vegan Express (Book Publishing Co., 2013). Both books by B. Davis and V. Melina.

Vesanto Melina is a registered dietitian, consultant and author. , 604-882-6782.

photo © Vera Handojo

3 thoughts on “Pete’s protein puzzle”

  1. Being vegetarian >12yrs (almost vegan – still trying to perfect making vegan ‘cheese’ and soy yogurt) and very healthy, it still surprises me when I am asked, “but, where do you get your protein from”. I patiently explain it but I thank you for your concise and in story-form article written so people will ‘get it’ because they will ‘relating to it’! I will definitely be sharing this with many!

    Thank you for sharing such knowledge in your books and writings that I look forward to in Common Ground each month. I have your ‘Cooking Vegetarian’ in my library… and have given 2 friends your ‘Becoming Vegetarian’ book.

    My partner and I have an upcoming seminar, ‘Why Food Matters’
    ( the pond from you, here in Sidney. Of the many topics we will be covering is adopting a plant-based diet for all its health and environmental benefits.

    Keep on inspiring others! Laura


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