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I've seen this, this, this and this, but it doesn't answer my question.

Reason for asking:
I'm having digestive issues with eating meat, and I wish to switch to a vegetarian diet to see if it'd help.

The problem:
I've already tried a vegetarian diet multiple times (mostly the veggies here: spinach, bitter gourd, potato, tomato, onion, beetroot, bottle gourd, brinjal, beans, cabbage, okra, capsicum, carrot, cauliflower, drumstick, elephant yam, garlic, ginger, ivy gourd, green banana, green gram, green banana, tapioca, yam), but it has been insufficient in giving me the necessary muscle strength for sustained work (specifically the extraocular muscles, and I notice this very easily due to having suffered chronic eye strain for a decade). However, when I eat chicken meat, I get the necessary muscle strength.

The question:
I read in a newspaper that although plant diets contain similar proteins as meat diets, the range of proteins offered in a meat diet are much higher and in greater concentrations, so it's necessary to incorporate a wider variety of plants/veggies in the diet to be able to adequately make up for the nutrition that meat gives. So if somebody has actually discovered such a requirement, then is there a table or any information that lists out exactly which set of vegetables to consume and in what quantity, so that it'd make up for a meat-based diet?

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Vegetables have relatively low concentrations of protein. Rather than trying to replace lean meat with vegetables, one would typically try to replace them by eating more pulses such as beans, chickpeas, lentils. Grains also contain higher concentrations of protein than vegetables, but it's likely that you already eat enough grains (such as rice, wheat).

Grains like rice tend to be low in the amino acid lysine, while beans and lentils have relatively more lysine.

Nuts (including groundnuts) and seeds are also more concentrated sources of protein than vegetables.

I suggest adding more bean and lentil based dishes to your diet (more green gram, and other grams too), and adding nuts and seeds if possible. Of course, you should still eat vegetables, which provide dietary fibre and micronutrients.

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  • Thank you for the suggestions. Any chance you'd be familiar with sites that could show the exact proteins present in meat, where it is compared to the proteins from plants, so that I could be sure that I'm not missing on anything? I'll take your advice on beans, chickpeas and lentils. I'm already consuming almonds (noticed it helps with deep sleep), but groundnuts caused me stomach pain (not sure why). Had tried the boiled and roasted groundnuts.
    – Nav
    Nov 18 '20 at 16:28
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    @Nav Protein consists of amino acids, some of which are essential because they can't be synthesised in the body. Only lysine is relatively difficult to get in a vegan diet. The overwhelming consensus, as far as I know, is that vegans and vegetarians do not need to worry about getting enough protein. Only people with very inadequate food intake suffer from protein deficiency, while the majority of people have inadequate intakes of fibre and other nutrients found in fruits, vegetables, pulses and wholegrains (as well as vitamin D and vitamin B12 which are not found in plant foods).
    – Zanna
    Nov 18 '20 at 17:49
  • Ok, but my question isn't about protein deficiency. My question is specifically about the proteins that the muscles need, which I was hoping to identify by comparing proteins available in chicken meat and proteins from my vegetarian diet. I guess the only way to find out would be to look for research papers that have examined this. Lemme look up Google Scholar again...
    – Nav
    Nov 18 '20 at 18:35
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    @Nav You eat food that contains protein, protein gets broken down into amino acids, you absorb them, then your cells build the proteins they need from those amino acids. It used to be thought that vegetarians must do "protein combining" to get all the necessary amino acids, but that idea has been debunked. Protein is protein, and you just need to eat enough of it via a varied diet. There are countless vegan athletes and body builders whose stories you can find online these days.
    – Zanna
    Nov 19 '20 at 7:49
  • Thank you. Good advice.
    – Nav
    Nov 19 '20 at 9:12
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The "incomplete" nature of some (but not all) plant proteins that people talk about is far less important than its made out to be.

Actually the plant proteins, when broken down by your gut, are exactly the same as what is in meat (where do you think the proteins in meat came from?), however meat, being meat, obviously has the individual essential amino acids (that make up what is commonly called "protein") balanced perfectly for making more meat in your body. Some vege sources do not not have all the various aminos in balanced quantities (but many do like quinoa or tofu), BUT this doesn't mean you've got to match them up with other sources that fill in the missing aminos to balance it out for every single meal, which is what some sources erroneously suggest! (e.g. beans + rice etc). The body will just store any spare imbalances of amino acids and make them into your meat when the missing aminos arrive at some later point. So if your overall diet contains a variety of vegan proteins (not necessarily in the same meal) you will be just fine. Even if you don't, no problem, just might need to eat more food (lucky you).

I probably eat more protein now and I barely eat any meat. I actually mostly stopped eating meat just out of convenience because it's too messy and perishable. Essentially I learned to make vege proteins taste good and then meat became a waste of money and time going to supermarket so I stopped getting it entirely.

You need to figure out which high protein vegan sources work for you and make sure you replace any meat you ate before with these. If that is still not enough, add in high protein snacks and carb-replacements like I mention below. You can easily eat even MORE protein than before once you work it out!

My main sources are:

  • Tofu. Cooks fast if sliced thin. Usually with a stirfry.
  • Nuts and seeds in my smoothie/snacks/desserts
  • Switch to moderate protein snacks (e.g. Forget potato chips and crackers, instead look for snacks like papadoms, bujah mix etc these are great ways to sneak in extra protein which seriously adds up. Indians seem to be good at this.)
  • Moderate protein flours (e.g. buckwheat, amaranth and various Indian ones, but not wheat) which I can rapidly cook into pan breads when needed. I dont bother with loaves of bread (too perishable). Again like snacks, this adds up.
  • Pea protein shake (20g complete protein in a glass of water for $1.. beats every form of meat easily).
  • Various lentils and beans. Many can be made complete proteins simply by eating with rice. I'm not a big bean fan, and actualy they are not that high in protein compared to lentils. Mainly I do split mung beans as they are dirt cheap, and easy to cook and digest. Just throw them in with the rice in a pot. Make a little tomato-onion curry sauce to pour over and done.
  • High protein pastas and noodles. This is a relatively new thing. My local supermarket now has a fairly good selection of these. They are super convenient being non perishable and contain so much protein you do not need to add any additional protein sources to your meal.

If you are making your own meals most of the time, you can easily jack up the protein to insane levels with items like these if you wanted to.

When I started going to the supermarket infrequently and hence ate much less meat, I felt "weak" and wanted to buy it again, but instead I just jacked up the vege proteins to higher levels, learned to make them taste better (pro tip: learn to use Asafoetida or other umami sources) and got over my emotional attachment to meat and then never looked back.

However... the problems begin when you eat out. If you are this kind of person, then you can't control what vegetarian food restaurants offer and honestly it tends to be not well thought out and lacking in protein by default. Not sure you can do much about it except carry around your own protein shake.

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  • Thanks Vijay, but I tried a vegetarian diet with lentils. It just couldn't substitute for chicken. I can feel a very distinct difference. Although we talk in terms of proteins and amino acid combinations, I believe that there's more going on in our gut than we currently know. Somehow, I feel that the way the gut responds to certain types of food and absorbs them may play a role here. Also, meat would have a much greater proportion and variety of proteins. For now, I just cannot substitute a non-veg diet with a vegetarian one. It just didn't work for me.
    – Nav
    Jun 28 at 14:28
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    All good. One other thing I found was lentils/beans are not always good with my gut, maybe its the so called "anti-nutrients" who really knows. However, I had no problems at all with split peeled yellow mung beans. They are somehow very easy to digest and cook. My GF always asks "How come this tastes like meat?"... the secret ingredient is umami Asafoetida ;). One more option is the various high-tech meat substitutes. "Sunfed chicken" is available in my country, which I have on occasion. Pricey but good at the start to break the psychological hold of meat and wean off it. Jun 28 at 23:46
  • The one thing I could not easily emulate is texture of meat. Protein density and umami flavours is easy to copy or even exceed. Jun 28 at 23:47
  • In my experiments with lentils and beans, I found that it caused problems with the gut only when it was not cooked for the right duration with the right amount of water. It needs longer cooking time. Even with jowar aatta, cooking time mattered.
    – Nav
    Jul 9 at 6:43

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