Now that the new school year is here, it’s a time of new beginnings. Something you might want to consider is a new beginning for your diet, too. With so many diet options available these days, I’d like to throw another one out there: think of becoming a part-time vegetarian. For those who aren’t sure, vegetarians do not eat meat, fish or poultry. Vegans take this a step further and avoid all animal products including eggs, cheese and other dairy products.
Before you just laugh this idea off, consider how many meals you eat that may be vegetarian already: macaroni and cheese, bean burritos or tacos, vegetable soup, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese pizza and French toast, just to name a few.
I’m not asking anyone to give up eating meat completely, as it is an excellent source of protein in our diet, but consider the health benefits of centering your meal around something other than meat for a change. Most of us don’t get the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily, nor whole grains for that matter. Why not consider a day or two a month that includes more of these foods?
I’m not suggesting salads for every meal, but if you step out of your typical eating pattern, you’d be surprised how healthy you can be without much effort. Consider traditional meat substitutes such as tofu, dried beans, lentils and peas, chickpeas, nuts and seeds, and plan your meal around these. Use color as a guide to plan your plate; darker, more vibrant fruits and vegetables are powerhouses of nutrients just waiting to improve your health. Skip over the refined grains and opt for whole grain breads, pastas and cereals instead. Not sure how to prepare these foods? Just do a quick search on the Internet and a whole new world is at your fingertips.
Don’t focus on finding alternative protein sources that taste like meat, rather enjoy these foods for their unique qualities and expand your palate. Vegetarian meals are generally lower in fat and higher in fiber than traditional meals. Plant based fats such as olive oil, avocado, and nuts are more heart healthy than their animal based counterparts. Low fat means it’s better for your heart and fiber will fill you up so you won’t feel deprived.
If you’d like more information, visit the Vegetarian Resource Group’s website at www.vrg.org for expert advice on moving towards a reduced meat lifestyle. You can also contact them at 410-366-8343 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Koch is a Registered Dietitian at Banner Churchill Community Hospital and the VA Lahontan Valley Outpatient Clinic. Send your nutrition questions to Mary at email@example.com.