By Amy Surdam, FNP

“Her name was Vydia. I met her in Belize on a recent Humanitarian Mission and she was from India with a British accent. She was beautiful, her skin glowed, and she was…happy.”


May, 2017


Her name was Vydia. I met her in Belize on a recent Humanitarian Mission and she was from India with a British accent. She was beautiful, her skin glowed, and she was…happy.

“What’s your secret?” I had asked her between patients.

“I’m a plant eater,” she replied simply.

A plant eater. I thought for a moment. Oh, you mean a vegetarian. For years I’ve wondered what it would be like to be a vegetarian, or at least vegetarian-ish (only sneaking bites of meat on occasion). I had never attempted “it” (becoming a vegetarian), but rather had succumbed to the mantra of so many: I need more protein.

But I don’t need more protein, not really, and neither do most people. In fact, Americans have gone overboard with protein and typically take in twice as much as needed. This excessive amount of protein can be bad for your health and is linked to things like osteoporosis, kidney disease, calcium stones in the urinary tract, and some cancers.

In fact, for those trying to lose weight, here is a reason to eat protein in moderation: if you eat more protein than your body requires, it will simply convert most of those calories to sugar and then fat. Ouch.

Here are a few tips on protein:

  1. How much protein do I really NEED?

The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. This amounts to:

  • grams per day for the average sedentary man and 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.

Some examples of protein rich foods include 3 oz of tuna (21 grams of protein), 6 oz of plain Greek yogurt (17 grams of protein), and ½ cup of cottage cheese (14 gram of protein). Of course there are certain groups of people who need a little extra protein such as teenage girls, children, athletes, and the elderly.

  1. What are some good plant based proteins?

Beans: black, garbanzo, lentils, split peas, kidney, etc. Beans are an excellent source of protein. For example, one cup of pinto beans has 15 grams of protein! As for whole grains, three protein-rich grains are quinoa, spelt, and amaranth. A cup of quinoa has a little more than 8 grams of protein.

If you are interested in being a “plant eater” or mostly a plant eater, just remember that unlike animal protein, most plant-based proteins are “incomplete,” meaning they lack some amino acid building blocks. Soybeans, quinoa and spinach are sources of complete proteins and suitable for vegan diets. Additionally, combining grains, legumes, and vegetables can ensure that you are getting all of the necessary amino acids For example, rice and beans, hummus on a pita bread, etc. Keep in mind though, the foods don’t actually need to be eaten together but rather can be eaten in the same day to be effective.

  1. Skip the items labeled “with more protein”.

In fact, can I dare say, skip the items labeled all together? Remember the mantra, “eat real food, mostly plants, not too much” by Michael Pollan? This is a great example. If you eat fresh vegetables, legumes, whole grains, a little fish, eggs, or meat if you prefer, then you will have all the protein you need without all of the other unnecessary items in prepackaged food.

The day after I met Vydia in Belize, I had my first ever delicious, plantain burger. Tonight I made enchiladas with black beans and roasted vegetables. Vegetarian-ish. Vegetarian for the days where I eat mostly plants. Ish, for the days I’m sure I’ll eat meat again.

Amy has proudly lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming since age 11. She graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1996 with a BSN, and in 2004 with a MSN. She serves in the Wyoming Army National Guard as a Family Nurse Practitioner. She is formerly the Executive Director of the Cheyenne Downtown Development Authority/Main Street and founder of Children’s Museum of Cheyenne. Amy’s talent and passion lies in strategic planning, public relations, public speaking, leadership, connecting people together, and making a difference. She enjoys spending time with her family and friends, running, and creating a better tomorrow.

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