I have worked hard to stay fit and understand the complex relationship between aging, nutrition, and exercise.
Getting Enough Protein on a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet
Eating a plant-based diet has changed the way I feel and the way I look. But it can be difficult to get the protein I need, especially since I'm past 40 and starting to lose muscle simply by ageing. Lifting weights and staying active helps, but it's critical that I get the protein that aids muscle synthesis and retention. There are some good choices for whole foods that deliver a good amount of protein, and I always try to utilize these when I'm deciding what to eat. But too often eating vegetarian means eating processed food and pre-made meals.
I grew up in Texas, eating meat five times a day, and I liked meat. But I began being a vegetarian when I was 19 because I found that I felt better.
— Dean Ornish
Getting Enough Protein on a Plant-Based Diet
If your diet is all or mostly vegetarian, you run the risk of not getting enough protein. If you're vegan, it can be even more of a challenge (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health). Edamame, lentils, tofu, and beans are all good sources, but they typically require a fair amount of preparation and planning. I almost always prepare my meals for a week and keep them in the fridge at work, and that does work, but quite often I find myself full of tofu and still short of my recommended protein intake.
Fortunately, there are now several good plant-based protein bars that are inexpensive, taste good, and deliver a serious does of high-quality protein.
Garden of Life Organic Sport Protein Bars
I really like these Garden of Life Protein Bars. I think of them as a treat, especially the chocolate mint variety, because they're just sweet enough to seem like dessert. However they only have 8 grams of total sugars, less than most protein bars, and a whopping 10 grams of dietary fiber -- enough to to slow down the speed at which your metabolism burns the simple carbs, keeping you full for a long time. Best of all, these little guys pack 20 grams of quality, plant-based protein, almost a fourth of the protein I should get in an average day. That's a pretty amazing nutrition profile for a dessert.
Being voted the world's sexiest vegetarian is about as cool as it gets. It's not quite as cool as Brad Pitt, but it'll do.
— Chris Martin
Scientific Evidence of the Benefits of Eating a Plant-Based Diet
According to a study by Craig Winston, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who adhere to a vegetarian diet enjoy a number of health benefits. Many of these are associated with the high amount of fiber and other nutrients in plants, including folic acid, vitamins A and C, potassium, and magnesium. According to Winston's study, "vegans tend to be thinner, have lower serum cholesterol, and lower blood pressure, reducing their risk of heart disease." These are wonderful benefits, and make the effort of eating plant-based diets well worth the trouble.
But Winston does point out some issues with a plant-based diet: "However," says Winston, "eliminating all animal products from the diet increases the risk of certain nutritional deficiencies. Micronutrients of special concern for the vegan include vitamins B-12 and D, calcium, and long-chain n–3 (omega-3) fatty acids." We may add proteins to this list, since meat and animal products are essentially pure protein, and doing without them could create a lack of quality protein in day-to-day food intake.
Vega Protein Plus Snack Bars
While I love the Garden of Life bars, Vega bars are actually my favorite plant-based protein bars. They have the perfect combination of taste and nutrients, and I generally buy them in bulk to save money. They taste great and have an impressive nutritional profile. They're gluten-free, too, which doesn't matter to me, since I tolerate gluten just fine, but it's a plus nonetheless. Vega protein bars are pretty much perfect for the kind of gap I often find in my daily diet -- something full of protein, organic and plant-based, and delicious. Last but not least, Vega bars and all other protein bars are easy to stash in a gym bag or computer tote, so I don't have to deal with a lot of preparation, mixing, micro-waving, and so on. I just grab, open, and keep going.
- Protein 11g
- Fiber 4g
- Calories 180-220
- At least 25% DV of 11 vitamin 1
- Vegan Certified
I like the peanut butter and chocolate; Vega bars also come in chocolate coconut and chocolate caramel, which are also good, but since I'm not a huge fan of caramel I tend to go with the PB and chocolate or coconut.
I eat mostly vegetarian. I love meat, but I think it should be enjoyed on occasion - like cheesecake or blackouts.
— Nadia Giosia
The American Diet and Sugar Consumption
Those of us who have struggled with weight gain, and then with the process of cutting fat, can be at least partly forgiven due to the constant presence of highly processed food in our culture. We have been poisoned, essentially, by huge industrial food producers that make billions of dollars selling processed, sugar-filled food to people who don't always know what they're eating.
According to a 2016 study by in US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, ultra-processed foods comprised 57.9% of energy intake for the Average American, and contributed 89.7% of the energy intake from added sugars.In general, sugar is the main culprit in this situation. Sugar, a refined simple carbohydrate that has been linked to the dramatic rise in Diabetes II in recent years, exploits the natural human desire for sweet food, which provides energy and in evolutionary terms is highly desirable.
Look at the average American diet: ice cream, butter, cheese, whole milk, all this fat. People don't realize how much of this stuff you get by the end of the day. High blood pressure is from all this high-fat eating.
— Jack LaLanne
Fighting Back Against the American Diet
One way to counter the ubiquitous presence of sugar and processed foods in the American diet is plant-based food items, which includes some energy and protein bars. According to Tusso, et al., in "Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets." [Perm J. 2013 Spring; 17(2): 61–66], "Healthy eating may be best achieved with a plant-based diet, which we define as a regimen that encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages meats, dairy products, and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods... We present a case study as an example of the potential health benefits of such a diet. Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HbA1C, and cholesterol levels. They may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases and lower ischemic heart disease mortality rates." While eating a plant-based diet won't fix every weight-gain situation, it's clearly a good place to start.
Gatorade Whey Protein Recover Bars
These are really popular, one of the best-selling bars on Amazon, and I'm including them here because my family loves them. They have a great nutrition profile and the good name of Gatorade to back them up. However, for whatever reason, these bars are not to my taste. Given the choice, I will always reach for one of my trusty Vega bars, assuming they haven't been gobbled up by the rest of the family.
Gatorade Why Protein bars are also not vegan, of course, since they contain whey, which comes from cow's milk. Whey is generally recognized as one of the best ways to consolidate and deliver qulaity protein in a bar or shake, so I'm sure these bars deliver the protein.
Stay in Shape and Get Your Protein!
The following sources were consulted in the production of this guide:
Winston, Craig. "Health effects of vegan diets," The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Tusso, et al. "Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets." Perm J. 2013 Spring; 17(2): 61–66.
Steele, et al. "Ultra-processed foods and added sugars in the US diet: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study." US National Library of Medicine
National Institutes of Health
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2017 GreenMind Guides
James Wu on April 08, 2018:
vegetables such as kale, zucchini, and Portobello mushrooms.
Dianna Mendez on December 18, 2017:
I use the Garden of Life Super Green Food for the quality product. I'll have to try their protein bar. Food information on how sugars affect your health.