Will I get enough protein if I don't eat any meat?
The answer is Yes. Vegetarians get their protein comes from four main sources:
You may have heard of 'first-class proteins' and 'second-class proteins'. To explain, proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. We need eight amino acids together to build one unit of protein. Meat and dairy products contain all eight amino acids, so they used to be called 'first-class proteins'. The vegetarian foods mentioned above do not (with the exception of the soya bean, and products made from it) so they were called 'second-class proteins'.
Originally it was thought that vegetarian protein had to be combined in specific ways in order to get enough protein in the diet, but it has since been discovered that this is not the case. All foods except fruits contain some protein, and basically, if you are getting enough calories you will get enough protein. If you lived on nothing but fruit, you would be short of protein, but in order to get 2,000 calories a day you would have to eat 400 apples!
So what we are saying to you is - don't worry about protein. Eat a proper amount of food, incorporating the main protein sources regularly in as unprocessed a state as is reasonable, and eat a good variety of foods, and you will get enough protein. You should also remember that too much protein is as bad, maybe worse for you as too little - an excess of protein can contribute to osteoporosis.
A very useful soya product is Textured Vegetable Protein, also known for short as TVP. You can buy this loose and use it as a meat replacement, or you can use some of the excellent convenience foods that are on the market using this, such as Sosmix, Burgamix and the Linda McCartney range of meals. For occasional meals, these convenience foods provide a valuable and handy addition to a vegetarian's life. They also have the advantage of being fortified with vitamin B12.
So you see you can easily get enough protein. You do have to be more careful with children as their protein needs are higher - you should include a good amount of dairy and soya in their diet. We publish a separate leaflet on 'Vegetarian Mother and Baby'.