Reverse veganization
March 16, 2009 7:00 PM   Subscribe

How can I incorporate animal protien and supplemental iron in my vegan diet?

That sounds contradictory, I know.

But my doctor just told me that I am protien deficient and anemic, and that I must eat animal protiens and more iron. Every body is different, and apparently mine can't survive on a strict vegan menu alone. Now I am having trouble imagining how to incorporate meats in my meals. I've looked into whey protien mixes, but am interested in ways that I can hide meat (and extra iron) in my diet without, you know, tasting it. Basically I'd like my diet to remain as vegan as possible on the surface, while satisfying my body's protien requirements.

Fish is out; I can't palate it. Chicken, pork, and beef are better.

So, what are some good recipes to hide animal protien in?
Are there any prepared foods (like I'd buy at Whole Foods on my lunch break) that might work?
What are my other options outside of meat? Do eggs count?
posted by zenofthefrisbee to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
OK, I also found these threads, and will be reading them too.
posted by zenofthefrisbee at 7:03 PM on March 16, 2009

eggs definitely count. they are actually a really good source of protein.
posted by fancyoats at 7:05 PM on March 16, 2009

Eggs supply all essential amino acids.

Scrambled eggs and/or scrambled egg whites are very versatile. You can put them in sandwiches, wraps, pasta, eat them separately, melt cheese over them, put them on a burger, etc.

In terms of sheer amount of protein consumed (regardless of completeness) I've found that grilled chicken breasts halves or cutlets are the easiest way to eat a ton of protein. They couldn't be easier to cook and are great with any sort of citrus or BBQ glaze, ketchup, browned with unsalted butter and dusted with some fine-ground black pepper, cut up into a salad, put on whole wheat bread with lettuce and tomato, etc.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:11 PM on March 16, 2009

Before people start with their "oh, your doctor is a traditionalist, and hasn't explored other options" derail, lemme include this:

Protein has 20 vital amino acids. 9 of the 20 must be gotten through consumption. You can get most through a vegan diet...but not all. Some people can be vegan for their whole lives without requiring the missing amino acids, and some cannot. Thats how us humans roll.

Now, on to your question:

Protein powder with whey.
Lentils using meat fats. I just saw an alton brown episode where he couldn't put enough pork into lentils.
red beans and rice has animal fat in it
Lots of southern food (greens) has animal fat in it

If I were you, I'd look for restaurant foods which you might think are vegetarian. And then do some exploring regarding the ingredients. You'll be freaking surprised. Then make that at home.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:14 PM on March 16, 2009

Inspector.Gadget, I don't think eggs supply ALL the essential amino acids, and your link goes to the home page, not a specific article or document.

It seems that NASA thinks quinoa is better than any other food at giving you a close to complete essential amino acids. Careful though...the study is over 15 years old.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:19 PM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Eggs are an excellent source of protein but won't solve your iron problem. According to this, an egg contains about a milligram of iron. The American RDI, says you need 18 mg per day.

So just to maintain your iron level you'd have to eat 18 eggs a day. If you've got a deficit already, you'd have to eat even more than that in order to catch up.

Spinach is supposed to be a good source of iron, but it won't solve your problem either. (A good robust spinach salad is probably good for 4 or 5 mg.) I think the best answer for your iron deficiency is vitamin tablets -- or real, genuine red meat eaten in significant quantity on a regular basis, which doesn't sound like something you want.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:26 PM on March 16, 2009

I've had Szechuan eggplant at a local place where they put some ground pork into it. It's still mostly eggplant except for some small bits of meat, and you can't really taste it because of the sauce. It's just one option to consider.
posted by cabingirl at 7:28 PM on March 16, 2009

I have needed iron supplements for anemia before. I am a vegetarian, but I was anemic when I ate meat, too.

If you go the supplement route, make sure you get the extended-release kind. (Iron supplements can cause some problems with constipation otherwise.)
posted by adiabat at 7:34 PM on March 16, 2009

You might also try making lasagna with half the ground beef of a normal recipe (or better, ground chicken or turkey that has a less aggressive flavor profile) and veggies as per a veggie lasagna, like eggplant.

Also, chili with a touch of turkey. Add beans and corn and you get all of your essential amino acids from the beans and corn alone.
posted by taliaferro at 7:42 PM on March 16, 2009

On the "prepared food" front, you can get bottles of Muscle Milk in lots of convenience stores and bodegas.
posted by aquafortis at 7:45 PM on March 16, 2009

Have you considered cheese? I'm mostly vegan, and eggs kind of freak me out now (I still eat them in baked goods occasionally), but cheese is OK. Look for some that's made *without* rennet - vegetarian cheese. Very proteiny, and doesn't require killing things (I'm not a vegan for ethical reasons, but I have become more squeamish over time).

If your grocery store has a cheese section of any elaborateness, someone should be able to help you.

Some cheeses will have more or less fat, too. If you're used to getting fat from other sources, you might want to take this into account.

I've also gotten into freshly-ground peanut butter lately - the healthy stuff.
posted by amtho at 7:49 PM on March 16, 2009

Iron: plentiful in beets. If you eat your iron with some kind of citrus, it will help increase absorption.

But, yes, you may need to supplement.
posted by amtho at 7:50 PM on March 16, 2009

Half a cup of raw beets contains half a milligram of iron, 3% of the RDI.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:08 PM on March 16, 2009

As an almost-vegan myself I'd advise lentils and spinach for the iron (lentil stew with carrots and spinach and tomatoes = delicious and super cheap).

For animal protein eggs are probably the easiest without being too meaty or bad for the environment/animal. I would suggest getting ones from a local farm if you can, many let you sign up for a farming share. Some shares have eggs, meat, or cheese and let you visit the farm or work on it. This might be a good choice if you need to soothe your conscience.

Also, if you don't already use nutritional yeast I highly recommend it as an excellent source of a complete protein and B vitamins that are otherwise found only in animal products. You can get like 500% of your b vitamins with a tablespoon.
posted by speef at 8:11 PM on March 16, 2009

You could cook in cast iron. I found this on the subject with some cursory searching.
posted by Alex Voyd at 8:14 PM on March 16, 2009

This seems to be the definitive source of nutrient information I've found by googling so far. But the result of the search can't be directly linked. Sorry.

Anyway, 100 grams of cheddar cheese contains 24.9 grams of protein, 33.14 fat, 403 calories, and 0.68 milligrams of iron (less than 4% of the RDI). Cheese is good but I don't think it's going to solve your deficiency.

It also says that 100 grams of raw beets contains 0.8 milligrams of iron.
100 grams of raw spinach is 2.71 milligrams of iron.

1 large (50 gram) egg contains 6.29 grams of protein, 4.97 grams of fat, and 0.92 milligrams of iron.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:28 PM on March 16, 2009

Dairy. Have some dairy.
posted by 31d1 at 8:40 PM on March 16, 2009

Did your doctor specifically rule out just using an iron supplement? That would help limit your problem to just the protein thing.

I haven't looked into the issue, but the common claim that certain people "just need animal protein" rings of pseudoscience to me. Complete vegetable proteins like soy contain all of the essential amino acids (contra hal_c_on--see), so what about animal protein could make it special? You may want to ask your doctor why, for example, it should matter if you use whey protein supplements instead of soy. This should simply be a matter of getting more and better protein in your diet, not animal protein in particular.

Also, as an aside, if it really is necessary for you to eat animal stuff, I don't see why you'd try to disguise it in your diet. I'm an ethical vegetarian, but if it became medically necessary for me to eat meat I'd be making sushi every day and loving it. Is it just the "yuck" factor? If so, I'd try to overcome that so you can actually derive some enjoyment from this instead of just extra work. After all, if you think by preserving your health you're making the most ethical choice, and you have to do it anyway, why let it bother you?
posted by abcde at 9:07 PM on March 16, 2009

Anemia and low protein intake are probably not the only dietary problems you have, as a decent vegan diet has a lot of protein and iron.

This page outlines foods that inhibit and enhance iron absorbion, this has a listing of iron in vegetables and this one does as well.

Do you have any mediterranean ancestors, they have an increased incidence of thalassemia which causes anemia.
posted by zentrification at 9:17 PM on March 16, 2009

Bibimbap might be up your alley - it's mostly vegetables, rice, and a Sriracha-esque sauce, but with an egg and a bit of sliced pork or other meat to round it out.

Also, mapo doufu is mostly tofu in a Szechuan-style, numbingly spicy sauce, adulterated with ground pork. (Disclaimer: haven't tried that particular recipe.) Since you're not into seafood, sundubu may not be up your alley, but if you get curious it's a sort of similar idea - a spicy tofu stew with shellfish.

If you were thinking of adding whey protein, cottage cheese with fruit and/or nut butter can be delicious, easy, and healthful, especially if you go with a low-fat CC. Shop around, because some cottage cheese brands are far better than others. I thought I hated cottage cheese until I discovered Breakstone's, which is still my high-water mark. Breakstone's also makes "cottage doubles" which are the cottage-cheese answer to fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt - a little sugary to be really healthy, maybe, but still good.

Mark Bittman also had an article in the NYT last summer that might be relevant -- the list is quite fish-heavy, but a few of the ideas might appeal to you (e.g. #14, or #40).

It's actually a current nutritional (and environmental) trend to think of meat as a condiment or seasoning, as opposed to an entree in and of itself. So you're actually ahead of the curve here! Of course, a lot of traditional cuisines used the same idea out of necessity - so maybe you've wrapped all the way around? Either way, good luck.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:19 PM on March 16, 2009

You don't need *animal* protein. That's utter BS. What you do need is a good source of protein period - that doesn't contain hormones (makes your testes shrink and manboobs grow), antibiotics and bacteria. Let's see. Oh yah. Got just the thing - and it tastes good too.

It's called HEMP PROTEIN.

Just a few words about it:
*Hemp Seed Protein
Hemp seeds have the most complete edible and usable protein in the vegetable kingdom. Although soybeans are said to contain more, much of it is unusable by the human body. Proteins serve such functions as acting as enzymes, antibodies, and the structural components of tissues, hormones, and blood protein. The main function of dietary protein is to supply the building blocks called amino acids so that they can be used to reconstruct other proteins needed for the growth and maintenance of body tissue. *

the link to that article and more info there

And what me promote something? Google HEMP PROTEIN. Find out about its 50% protein factors and just simple utter lovely goodness - all natural. All organic. All truth.

Thanks and cheers to all.
posted by watercarrier at 4:39 AM on March 17, 2009

First, don't listen to hal_c_on re: anything. They are the Steven C Den Beste of our era. For example, animal fat is not a good source of protein or iron.

If you're genuinely protein deficient you should talk to an actual nutritionist, because it is not easy to achieve that absent starvation level intake or single-food diets (such as an alcoholic). I mean, I've known college kids with 90% of calories from sugar, fat, and alcohol who were fine. What I'd be more concerned with is that your GP saw low serum albumin (which has many medical causes) and microcytic anemia (if they even did a CBC, maybe just low total heme) and blamed it on vegan diet when something else could be happening.

What's your diet like now? It's hard to know what you need and aren't getting without knowing what you have.

Your best bet for hiding animal protein is probably egg whites. I add them to stir-frys (at the end), soups (pour them in slowly -- egg drop!), hard boiled to salads, and scrambled to rice beds (just like making a pilaf). They also make a decent sandwich filler (microwave them) for something tasty like an avocado, tomato, and vidalia onion sandwich.

I've also got lots of recipes with tofu, and lean chicken won't be so bad a substitute. If you make anything like chili, that's a good place to slip in some beef. I've had waiters mistakenly include meat-bits in my curries before and it took me a while to notice, so that's probably a good option too.

For iron, you can get supplements, cook in cast iron (like a wok), try hard with veggies, or eat meat. Most meats are fine, but the grosser ones (liver, kidney, brain!) richer. I wouldn't worry about it; if you can stomach red meat, that's very rich in very available iron. My recollection is that shellfish are also quite high, and might be curry-able so that you don't notice them (cook then chop to get rid of big chewy chunks?). My favorite iron vegan recipe is Caribbean lentils cakes. Make lentil cakes with onion, jerk spices, and black molasses, serve on a rice pilaf with pumpkin seeds.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:15 AM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh and people always say spinach because it has iron in it. It has iron, but also stuff that binds iron and makes it so that you can't absorb it. If you want to eat spinach, you need to eat it with something that promotes iron uptake (like vitamin C, eg orange juice).
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:22 AM on March 17, 2009

First, don't listen to hal_c_on re: anything. They are the Steven C Den Beste of our era

Maybe so, but he is right about quinoa. It's one of the few vegetable sources that's high in proteins and has a complete complement of amino acids.
posted by electroboy at 6:26 AM on March 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's true that quinoa is a nice food. I'm not saying that every word out of his mouth is a lie, just that you should trust the parts copied from wikipedia like you would trust wikipedia. The rest you should consider in context.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:19 AM on March 17, 2009

It's actually a current nutritional (and environmental) trend to think of meat as a condiment or seasoning, as opposed to an entree in and of itself. So you're actually ahead of the curve here! Of course, a lot of traditional cuisines used the same idea out of necessity - so maybe you've wrapped all the way around? Either way, good luck.

Disclaimer: one of the authors is a close friend; she's a former vegan/vegetarian who warmed up to the idea of meat, but not the "slab on a plate" school of meat. So, her Almost Meatless just hit the shelves (er, the Amazon pre-order) on this principle.

Also see Mark Bittman's new book Food Matters, in which he discusses his new "less-meat-itarian" diet. (Though it's framed more as convincing the average Joe to cut back on meat, not the opposite.)

Seconding quinoa, eggs, dairy, and many of the cuisines of southeast Asia. Also seconding a dietitian, who can help you navigate whether you can just shift from vegan to vegetarian, or whether you'd be better off with small amounts of meat (and how small.)
posted by desuetude at 8:06 AM on March 17, 2009

Whey protein powder, like for bodybuilders. Optimum Nutrition has 16 flavors, and some are quite good. I drink it as a shake, but some folks mix it in with their oatmeal.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:53 AM on March 17, 2009

Plantation brand Unsulfured Blackstrap Molasses has a surprisingly high quantity of iron. I add it to my smoothies.
posted by chairface at 1:58 PM on March 17, 2009

According to the USDA, a cup of molasses has just shy of 16 milligrams of iron -- and 977 calories. There's got to be a better way to get iron into your diet.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:53 PM on March 17, 2009

I had/have the same problem. I hate all red meat, but for some reason I don't mind sausages, so I eat those a couple of times a week. Also lentil and veggie casserole (or lentil veggie and sausage casserole! or lentil veggie and bacon casserole!)

PM me for the recipe if you'd's so much yummier than it sounds!

You can make the casserole on a Sunday and just eat a cup a day (or most days), plus take an iron supplement -- this is what I did and my iron levels rose so much higher than I expected -- I thought it might only get me to borderline normal.

(I also eat tuna or an egg about once a week).
posted by mjao at 5:24 AM on March 19, 2009

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