Is it time to give up on vegetarianism?
February 9, 2010 10:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering somewhat abandoning vegetarianism and I need some advice.

I became an ovo-lacto vegetarian in 1999 when I was 28. It was easy for me, because I never liked wild game or seafood of any sort, so all I really gave up was chicken, pork, turkey, and beef. I also gave up anything seasoned with meat and anything that contained gelatin. I love all fruits and vegetables, so I have had that in my corner. I also like tofu and soymilk.

The problem is that I do not feel that I have never learned to be a very good or very smart vegetarian. I have never made any effort to make sure I am combining foods to create "perfect" proteins. I eat too much bread, pasta, and meat substitutes like Boca burgers. Most of my protein comes from yogurt, peanut butter, cheese, and (probably) granola, to name a few.

I am also about 25 pounds overweight, and I never seem to feel very energetic. So far, I have chalked this up to aging (I am 39) and lack of exercise. Now I'm not so sure.

So my question is this: If I started eating a serving of boneless chicken breast twice a day, would I notice any difference in things like my weight and/or energy level, or am I just looking for a quick fix? Have you been a vegetarian, reintroduced some meat into your diet, and seen some changes (good or bad)? If so, what were they?

As always, thanks for your help.
posted by 4ster to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like a quick fix to other problems to me. I had a brief period of intense weight loss (cause: quit drinkin', rode bike), and at the behest of my concerned family ate a little meat for a time. I noticed no changes. OTOH while I make no attempts to balance amino acids or crap, I try to eat a well varied diet because I like food. You're free to try it; I don't think that anyone reasonable would fault you for it.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:38 AM on February 9, 2010

If you're not going to make an effort to change other areas of your diet that may be lacking, I don't think simply adding a couple of servings of meat is going to significantly change the way you feel.

Combining foods for complete proteins is really somewhat of a myth. If you're eating a generally rounded diet you don't need to worry about that. Working on changing your diet to include more protein, period, and fewer refined carbs will be just as effective as adding some chicken.
posted by something something at 10:42 AM on February 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

I have never made any effort to make sure I am combining foods to create "perfect" proteins.

You probably put more effort into this post than it would take to make up a couple recipes that were "perfect" and put them into your rotation. Check out a vegetarian cookbook and look for 2 or 3 high-protein recipes. Make one them a week. And get some exercise.
posted by DU at 10:47 AM on February 9, 2010

So my question is this: If I started eating a serving of boneless chicken breast twice a day

Boneless chicken breasts twice a day, every day? You're going to die of boredom so, so fast. I would try mixing in some other protein sources- do you like beans, or eggs?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:48 AM on February 9, 2010

If you're adding a substantial new component to your diet--a serving of white meat is about 240 calories--without taking anything away, I can't see that this is going to fix any problems. This doesn't have anything to do with with what you're adding as much as the fact that you're adding something.

And most people don't eat just chicken. It's fried, or it's in barbecue sauce, or it's curried, or it's spices, all of which contribute calories and/or salt. Which are fine as far as things go, but you can't forget those things when considering the total effect on your diet.

More to the point, not getting enough protein isn't generally something that contributes to weight gain. Peanut butter, yogurt, and cheese contain complete proteins anyway, so I'm not sure what you'd stand to gain--other than calories--by adding meat back in.

I think all we've got here is more evidence that vegetarian diets aren't automatically healthier than omnivorous diets. You've got to watch what and how much you eat regardless of what it happens to be.
posted by valkyryn at 10:48 AM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

So, this all depends on why you became a vegetarian. If you have ethical/political concerns about eating animals, there are many better ways to improve your diet than by just incorporating chicken. If you went veggie specifically for health reasons, there are zillions of ways to eat healthily, vegetarian or not.

I'm gonna cop out and quote Michael Pollan on this one, but it's a good strategy: "eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

By "food" he means actual food made from identifiable ingredients, rather than processed food-like products. By "mostly plants" he means that most of the time, meat and/or dairy should not be the centerpiece of your meals. If you use meat, use it as a garnish or a supporting ingredient, rather than the main "thing" of a meal. Stir frys. Vegetable roasts. Stews & soups. Curries. Burritos. All things that are delicious and not overly reliant on meat or dairy. And if you don't like tofu, try seitan. It's made from wheat protein, and is often described as more "meaty" in texture and flavor. And it's more versatile for cooking than tofu. Also, I have found recently how much I love spinach in just about any form, and it's fantastically good for you. Same goes for Swiss chard, collard greens, and kale (you've gotta cook the latter to for a long time, but damn it's worth it).

Another good strategy is one my grandfather espouses "stay away from the blondes, stick with the brunettes." which is to say, try to eat less white potatoes, white bread, and white rice, and instead have sweet potatoes, whole wheat bread, and brown rice. These are gonna do way more for your ambient energy level than chicken.

As far as how your body will take to switching back to meat, it's different for everybody. My sister gets mad sick to her stomach if she accidentally eats animal flesh, another friend of mine broke her veganism with a bacon cheeseburger, and was happy as a clam. So, YMMV.
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:51 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you were absolutely right in guessing that this is aging and not lack of animal proteins. If anything, you want to remove some of that bread and pasta, replace it with legumes, and exercise regularly. Two chicken breasts a day is more than any non-athlete should ever have.
posted by slow graffiti at 10:55 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you been a vegetarian, reintroduced some meat into your diet, and seen some changes (good or bad)?

I reintroduced meat over the last year, and actually I haven't noticed any significant change in things like energy levels. I 2nd the notion of reading Michael Pollan on this topic. (My current way of dealing with this issue is to eat meat if it is locally raised, basically inspired by Pollan's writing.) One change of sorts that I have noticed is that I have been a (pesca-)vegetarian for so long I didn't ever learn to cook with meat, so my attempts are significantly worse than my vegetarian cooking. This leads me to wonder if you would necessarily be a smart meat-eater any more than you were a smart vegetarian, because I don't think it is necessarily any easier.

Also, on the issue of getting sick from switching back to meat, there was a long ask.mefi thread about this at one point and the consensus was that it is really rare.
posted by advil at 11:07 AM on February 9, 2010

Sounds like a quick fix. A chicken breast or two a day isn't going to do anything for you. Being overweight and not exercising will surely make you feel a lack of energy, regardless of how much animal protein you're getting. If you want to start eating meat, surely do. But you can get more than enough protein from non-animal sources, so you don't "need" meat.

I'd start cutting down on simple carbs and make sure you're having beans, nuts and nut butters (you said you had peanut butter so that's good). If you're worried about being overweight (probably tied to lethargy, IMHO), think about reading the labels on your granola--most of them are positively loaded with fat and sugar--and find some (usually in bulk at a health food store) that are either unsweetened or lightly sweetened (preferably not with refined sugar) and not very high in fat. A good guideline is per 1/2 cup of granola, about 140 calories, 4 g of fat and 6 g of sugar. Whole Foods and most health food stores should have a couple varieties that meet this and are really tasty. If you eat a lot of yogurt, read those labels, too. They're typically loaded with added sugar. A high protein alternative is nonfat or lowfat Greek yogurt with fresh or frozen unsweetened fruit added in, maybe some museli or something, too. The unsweetened varieties of granola that are more or less all nuts with some dried fruit are good sources of protein as well. Check out some grains, like quinoa, which has higher protein than others. These are just some ways to modify what you're already doing to balance out your diet more healthily.

Good luck.
posted by Rudy Gerner at 11:07 AM on February 9, 2010

Have you been a vegetarian, reintroduced some meat into your diet, and seen some changes (good or bad)?

Yup. In 2003 when I was diagnosed with insulin resistance, I reintroduced meat into my diet after being a bad vegetarian for most of my adult life. By "bad," I mean of the high in refined carbs, low in protein, beans-and-rice, grilled-cheese-sandwich variety. By adding animal protein back in and eliminating all grains and sugar, I got my health back, lost a good 40 pounds (and have kept it off), and have had no regrets.

YMMV, but I firmly believe that some people, myself included, are just not genetically suited to vegetarianism. It borders on a bit crack-potty, but the works of Weston A. Price seem to back this up.
posted by chez shoes at 11:18 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was vegetarian for 27 years (born and raised), and began eating meat about a year and a half ago. I didn't have any ethical or moral reasons for remaining vegetarian, and was kind of curious about what I was missing. I now eat chicken and turkey regularly (but not daily) and seafood occasionally, but no red meat. I cut way back on the processed meat substitutes like Boca burgers.

I have noticed a HUGE difference in my energy levels, particularly on days that I am very active. When I was a vegetarian, I was also not careful about mixing foods to get enough protein, and I really feel like that problem has been solved with my new diet. Meals with meat or seafood leave me full in a different way and for much longer. I'm no longer anemic. I haven't fainted once since starting to eat meat (it was an issue before). High-energy days (those with hour-long dance classes or many-hours long rehearsals) aren't a problem in terms of energy. Eating meat also made me more aware of everything that I was eating, so I've started cutting out most processed foods, not just the meat substitutes.

I don't think that just having a chicken breast a day is going to solve your problems--a more well-rounded diet and exercise program will do that whether you add meat to the equation or not. But I wanted to provide a data point that yes, going from a full-vegetarian to mostly-vegetarian diet can make an impact on your energy level.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:28 AM on February 9, 2010

People said some version of this already, but they did it in long form, so I'm going to summarize:

When it comes to food, variety is more important than anything else.

Eating chicken every day is no different than eating a Boca burger every day. In other words, it's a stupid idea and both will make you feel like shit. The vegetarian-or-not debate is a red herring.
posted by obliquicity at 11:30 AM on February 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Something else to consider might be alcohol consumption. I have been truly shocked and amazed at the weight loss that effortlessly comes with cutting out booze. Just a thought.
posted by Go Banana at 11:32 AM on February 9, 2010

lack of exercise

Why do you overlook this obvious factor to consider a change in diet first? You say you don't think it has to do with exercise, but you don't say why. Yes, I think you are looking for a quick fix.
posted by whiskeyspider at 11:37 AM on February 9, 2010

A couple of asides, in case it helps out tangentially: first, vegetarians needing to properly combine proteins is a myth; second, if you're eating tofu and drinking soymilk, you're getting some protein from soybeans right there.
posted by mendel at 11:41 AM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am not a vegetarian, but it really doesn't seem like being vegetarian is your problem.

A can of beans is not only cheaper, but better for you than those processed meat substitutes. Have you ever looked at the nutritional content in a lot of those products? Think of them as a treat, not a staple. That's how I view eating the occasional hamburger. Make a salad and throw some kidney beans on! Cook some rice with veggie broth and canned tomatoes and throw a can of pinto beans in! Get fancy and make your own black bean burgers!
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:48 AM on February 9, 2010

I was a vegetarian for 8 years. I was not terribly careful about what I ate, though I religiously avoided gelatin, meat sauces, and the like. I got plenty of protein from cheese, yogurt, eggs and tofu, but I probably did go a little overboard on starches, particularly pasta and potatoes. I actually enjoyed the challenge of avoiding animal products, but after 8 years I started to feel lazy and a bit sickly. Small cuts wouldn't heal very quickly, my brain felt slow, and I just felt generally listless. I started eating meat again, and - BLAMMO - instant rejuvenation.

I'm not saying that vegetarianism is bad - I still enjoy many vegetarian foods quite a bit - but for some people there may be a point at which your body just can't support a vegetable-only diet anymore. Anecdotal evidence I've gathered from friends and other former vegetarians I've spoken with suggests that after about 5 to 8 years of eating a vegetarian diet, a person NOT RAISED as a vegetarian may begin to 'slow down' a little and not feel very healthy (Non-scientific study, completely subjective, YMMV quite a bit). Aside from the obvious nod to protein and a well-balanced diet, I have no idea what the cause of this might be; but I do know that now that I eat meat when the mood strikes me, I feel much better.

I was mainly a vegetarian for ethical reasons, so eating meat does sting a little bit when I think about where it comes from. I try to buy free-range and organic whenever I can.

Good luck.
posted by Pecinpah at 11:48 AM on February 9, 2010

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously...

Have you tried quinoa or tempeh? (Those links have info on protein.)

Quinoa works as a more nutritious substitute for rice or pasta (or oatmeal, for that matter). Really easy to cook (just simmer for 20 mins.), and very versatile.

Tempeh is harder to cook (not like you need to be an amazing chef, but it takes more time and planning), but it's a very nutritious and meaty vegetarian food.

More broadly, a quick Google search will turn up long lists of high-protein vegetarian foods. Example. I'm no expert on this, so I just gave quinoa and tempeh as two ideas that you might not have considered. Here's a helpful general list of nutritious foods -- it's not specifically vegetarian or about protein, but you might want to peruse it for info on protein and other nutrients.

It's not inherently bad to eat bread and pasta on a regular basis. The main problem is eating too much of the low-nutrition versions of them. It's all too easy to pick up the white bread and "enriched" pasta at the supermarket. Try multigrain bread and whole-wheat pasta. (However, I'm pretty sure quinoa mixed with veggies is still more nutritious than whole-wheat pasta mixed with the same veggies.)

Other points about making pasta more nutritious: don't be afraid to go light on the pasta and heavy on the rest. Notice Bittman's caveats at that link: this obviously won't make macaroni and cheese or fettucine alfredo healthier. But if the sauce is based on a high-protein vegetable (spinach, for instance -- he gives a mini-recipe in the second-to-last paragraph of that article), it would.

In my anecdotal experience from talking to vegetarians, vegetarianism can lead to weight loss or gain or no change. So, I don't know if it's connected to your weight. I know someone who became vegetarian but felt it caused her to gain weight: she snacked on crackers and cheese a lot to make up for the feeling of missing meat. Obviously, that's not a good way to do vegetarianism. On the other hand, I know other people who felt they ate too much meat as meat-eaters and said that becoming vegetarian helped them lose weight (which was something they desired). If being a vegetarian means eating more desserts and junk food, obviously that's bad. If being a meat-eater means eating more McDonald's, obviously that's bad too. So, the weight thing is complicated.

You don't specify if you cook much or at all. If not, try Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone or Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Of course, these aren't panaceas -- not all the recipes in there are going to make you healthier. But it could give you new ideas to get yourself out of your rut. They both have tempeh and quinoa recipes, for instance.

Full disclosure: I've been a vegetarian non-stop since I was 10 (I'm 28), and I find it very conducive to healthy cooking, so I would never recommend going back to eating meat.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:50 AM on February 9, 2010

You might consider going to a doctor and make sure that you aren't anemic (or something else) before chalking up your lack of energy to diet, lack of exercise, or age.
posted by gregr at 11:54 AM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

More to the point, not getting enough protein isn't generally something that contributes to weight gain.

It is inasmuch as increasing protein may increase satiety, leading to lower overall intake, among other effects. I've seen this effect, rather than any particular deleterious effect of carbohydrates, offered as an explanation for the apparent success of low-carb diets. When you eat less carbs and more protein you feel more full so you're inclined to eat less generally.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:57 AM on February 9, 2010

valkyryn: I think all we've got here is more evidence that vegetarian diets aren't automatically healthier than omnivorous diets. You've got to watch what and how much you eat regardless of what it happens to be.

At the risk of being cliche... THIS.

The problem is that I do not feel that I have never learned to be a very good or very smart vegetarian.

If you're not a "smart vegetarian", you're not going to be a smart omnivore either. What you need is a better balanced diet, period. Think of it this way: I could randomly point to a person in a 30/40-something omnivore crowd and chances are your problem would describe them too. A lack of animal protein isn't the problem, it's an unbalanced diet and sedentary lifestyle.
posted by sbutler at 11:59 AM on February 9, 2010

Oh, hey! Vegetarian of ten years here, started back in 1999. Well, until last November, that is.

I was training for a marathon, couldn't seem to drop the last few pounds, and felt tired all the time. I kept getting injured, and the injuries weren't healing. I saw a doctor, who discovered my iron levels were so pitifully low they didn't even plot on the low end of the lab's graph. He sat me down and said, "Uh, some people just don't make good vegetarians, and you're one of them."

I was really, really resistant for months. I tracked what I ate and found that even with a LOT of effort on my part, I was struggling to get even the bare minimum of protein in terms of what a sedentary person would need, not even someone running thirty miles a week. And that's when I paid attention to everything I ate and made an effort to choose foods higher in protein, so things were probably pretty terrible before that.

So I sat down with a boneless chicken breast and stared at it for awhile. And once I got that down, I've been eating chicken a few times a week. (I'm actually typing this while sitting at the table with today's lunch: a chicken sandwich.) I can't say as it's made me feel magically better — I still struggle with getting enough iron, though that's less of a concern if you're male. I did lose a few pounds, though I didn't have a ton to lose anyway and it wasn't really the point for me. Frankly, being a vegetarian was a lot of work for me and in the end, I've come to think that I'd rather have a chicken breast than some variation on a soy patty (even though I like and even prefer a good black bean burger to anything chicken). I think I'm healthier for it, too. And man, it makes life easier when it comes to eating at restaurants, too. I don't eat red meat or pork, by the way, and I don't see that changing.

Also, don't start with a boneless chicken breast! I made that mistake, and it took me about a half hour to choke the damn thing down. They're awful and dry and boring. I tend to like chicken that's basically a boneless chicken breast cut up and put in something else. The first time I had BBQ chicken pizza after ten years was a revelation, for instance.
posted by adiabat at 12:05 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Definitely see a doctor if you can (I know insurance can be problematic) to rule out other issues before just assuming adding chicken is the way to go.

If you have problems with your thyroid, for instance, all the soy you are ingesting could exacerbate it. A sluggish thyroid would explain your lack of energy and weight gain.

But even if you have no other health issues, a doctor can clear you to start an exercise routine and maybe refer you to a nutritionist or dietitian.
posted by misha at 12:36 PM on February 9, 2010

Point One: I had a couple vegan friends a few years ago who got into eating raw liver, which was apparently equivalent to taking a shot of amphetamines directly to the heart. They would then go and play violent games of tether ball until their forearms were massive, purple, and generally useless. So yes, at least in the case of raw liver, eating meat might provide some energy.

Point Two: I would probably go with sustainably harvested fish over chicken, personally, or else free-range cow meat. I've always been of the opinion that it's better to be an informed omnivore than what we used to call "Pop-tart vegan." This jives with the Michael Pollan advice above.

Point Three: Lack of exercise is terrible for one's health and well-being, and also a self-reinforcing cycle. When one feels all crappy due to lack of exercise, exercise is the last thing that one will want to do, making the problem ever worse. So exercise regularly. You'll feel a lot better.

Point Four: If you _don't _ exercise and infuse yourself with a bunch of new energy (ie, calories) via a diet change, you must stop and think about where all that extra energy is going to go... It probably won't help with the weight problem, in short.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:37 PM on February 9, 2010

I was a vegetarian for many years too and started eating meat again about 8 years ago - but it definitely didn't magically make me have more energy overnight like some of the posters above. Here's what's been working for me:

- I take a vitamin D supplement every day (in addition to multivitamins). This has made a huge difference. I don't have time to do the google right now, but there is tons of supporting evidence that this is an all-around 'wellness' vitamin - it enables all the other vitamins and minerals to do their job and it is extremely unlikely that you're getting enough in your diet, vegetarian or no. I felt a huge shift in my energy levels after only a week or so.

- I eat protein in the morning. I have a whole wheat wrap w/eggwhites and salsa almost every morning; definitely on the days I work out. Protein makes you feel fuller longer and you don't have that big insulin drop after a few hours. I can always tell at lunchtime if I didn't have any protein that morning.

- I have my iron levels checked occasionally. They're fine now, but I know that while I was vegetarian I was definitely borderline anemic. It is certainly possible to get enough iron on a vegetarian diet - but it's much, much harder than if you ate some lean meat every once in a while.

- I have experimented with different kinds of meat to see what I'm comfortable cooking and eating. Depending on your reasons for vegetarianism, you may choose to eat only organic & humanely raised/killed meats, or that may not be an issue for you at all - but figure out what you're comfortable with and you'll be more likely to enjoy eating it.

- I usually eat meat with one meal a day, and vegetarian the rest. That balance works very well for me - I feel like I'm getting a nice variety of vegetables, I give my body the carbs, protein and minerals it needs, and I don't feel like I'm clogging my arteries. YMMV.

Good luck!
posted by widdershins at 12:49 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Slight derail, but this, "Same goes for Swiss chard, collard greens, and kale (you've gotta cook the latter to for a long time, but damn it's worth it)." is not true. I braise kale for no more than 5 or so minutes, with garlic, red pepper flakes, a little veg stock, salt and pepper, and it's delicious. With the short cooking time, it stays a little crunchy (but it's wilted) and you don't lose the vitamins. Just cut out the tough ribs.
posted by cooker girl at 12:49 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been vegetarian and not on and off from my 20s to today (currently 46) and my immediate reaction to your question is that the lower energy level is a result of not getting enough exercise at your almost-40 age, and not a lack of meat-based protein. If anything, frequently eating meat (particularly red meat) slows one down more (in my experience).
posted by aught at 1:09 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, don't start with a boneless chicken breast! ... They're awful and dry and boring.

They shouldn't be. Try cooking it differently -- poach in broth, or use a lid on the skillet while sauteeing it. And use a meat thermometer and stop cooking as soon as it reaches safe temperature, which won't be nearly as long a time as you think. (Dry chicken is a result of badly overcooking or cooking too dry.)
posted by aught at 1:12 PM on February 9, 2010

Another 20-year veteran of vegetarianism (with some fish eating periods) who now eats meat (though I might go back!)

While I agree with the Pollan "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants," advice in general (there are many food nutrients and combinations of nutrients current science doesn't adequately understand), a vegetarian diet may be lacking in some ways (though rich in others)...

Omega-3 fatty acids: are you getting these from omega-3 rich eggs? Flax seeds? (ALA omega-3 is used less efficiently by the body than fish EPA/DHA.) Omega-3s are particularly important if your diet contains a lot of Omega-6 fatty acids from nuts and seeds.

B vitamins: B12 in particular is almost impossible for vegans to get from diet. Multivitamins often don't have the methylated versions the body can most easily use. Nutritional yeast may be a good vegetarian source of B vitamins. I think as one ages ones ability to use B vitamins may go down.

Creatine: used by bodybuilders, studies have also shown cognitive benefits to vegetarians who supplement with this. Also the amino acid carnitine.

Also, some minerals like iron and zinc may be easier to get in a meat based diet. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc.
posted by Schmucko at 1:54 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Let's reframe the problem: the problem is not that you're not eating meat. The problem is that - you said it yourself - you eat too much bread, pasta, and meat substitutes.

I have never made any effort to make sure I am combining foods to create "perfect" proteins.
Neither have I. Instead, I have regular eating habits (breakfast is really important for giving you energy if you don't already eat breakfast; I have oatmeal with fresh or frozen blueberries and flax seed) and have healthy snacks throughout while at work (either sunflower seeds or raisins) in addition to lunch and dinner.

So keep eating your fruit and veg. Stay away from processed foods (e.g. canned food and those meat substitutes) and eat whole wheat bread and pasta and sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes. I'd also stay away from cheese, peanut butter and granola. They sound healthy, but are really high in calories esp. peanut butter (granola is high in calories too!). Cutting those out will definitely help with weight loss. Don't eat yogourt with aspartame. I get my protein from tofu and beans - I pretty much only eat chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils.

Also, you might want to check out the Engine 2 diet.* I find it just a little extreme for most people (basically it's vegan, but they call it plant-based to make it seem less tied to animal rights and environmentalism and more to health and it aligns with Michael Pollan's message for sure). For me I'm not crazy about dairy products anyway (and I barely eat them) so it wouldn't be a huge sacrifice to cut them out. I want to try it at some point! (Kind of funny how you're asking about eating meat again, and I'm saying, no, go vegan! :D Well, at least for a month, just to try it out.)

*From the FAQ: "Simple carbohydrates include table sugar, molasses, honey, alcohol, white bread, white pasta, white rice, fried chips, sugary cereals, fruit juices, candy, and milk. Most simple carbs are nutritionally empty because they have been tinkered with by humans, stripped of their fiber, minerals, and vitamins. They are digested quickly by the body and cause a sharp spike in your blood sugar levels.

"In response to this spike, your pancreas pumps out insulin to transport and deliver the energy-bearing glucose to cells throughout your body. This process causes your blood sugar and insulin levels to swing like a pendulum, leaving you feeling fatigued, hungry, and craving still more simple carbohydrates."
posted by foxjacket at 4:09 PM on February 9, 2010

As far as health/energy levels go I think you'd be better served getting some exercise and figuring out how much and of what you're really eat. You may be surprised*.

Also what Jaltoch said. There are lots of good non-meat protein sources you can be eating.

*I totally was the first time I actually counted the calories I was eating.
posted by grapesaresour at 4:40 PM on February 9, 2010

I'm a former vegetarian, although I changed my mind against vegetarianism for more ethical reasons (wanting to eat local, non-processed foods that are environmentally consciously doesn't actually jive with vegetarianism when you live in a northern climate with a very short growing season). However, I did notice a big boost in energy levels when I started eating some lean meats (in particular sustainably raised fish).

It sounds, however, like you're not sure about how much protein your getting, or about the quality of your foods. Personally, I would start to monitor my diet and exercise (in an application like FitDay before making any changes and just see what proportion of calories are protein, what proportion fat, carbs, etc. You may at that point want to add in meat (not necessarily everyday!) or might not. But if you're recording what you eat, you can make small changes and see how it feels, and you'll be able to trace any cause and effect easier.
posted by Kurichina at 8:17 AM on February 10, 2010

The meat substitutes are ... really not nutritious.

A Boca burger (which the OP mentioned) has, among other nutrients, about 13 grams of protein (which the OP is particularly focused on). RDA for a 39-year-old man is 56 grams. So a Boca burger is 22% of a day's protein. I don't think fake meat should be one of the main staples of your diet, but calling all of them "not nutritious"? Is that just your personal feeling or do you have any evidence for that?
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:23 PM on February 10, 2010

The potential problem with Boca burgers and such isn't that they're "not nutritious" in the sense of "containing no usable energy," but that they're highly processed, and many believe it's healthier to get most of their calories from whole, minimally processed foods. Also 56g of protein is a very small amount for an active person to get in a day. For comparison, a regular burger of similar size made from 85% lean ground beef has about 22g of protein.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:10 AM on February 11, 2010

Oh, I agree it's better to focus more on whole foods than processed foods, and Boca burgers are processed foods. But they do have the kind of nutrition the OP wants, so I don't think saying not to eat them is very good advice. As for the RDA on protein, I really don't know, but I wouldn't assume that the average American isn't getting excessive amounts of protein. Saying that a regular burger has lots of protein just raises the question of whether people get too much protein through eating lots of regular burgers.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:19 AM on February 11, 2010

I don't think excessive protein is a real concern for anyone who doesn't have kidney disease, and certainly not for a vegetarian like the OP.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:38 AM on February 11, 2010

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