Meatless Meals for Better Health

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Research indicates that eating more fruits and vegetables is beneficial to your health.

The DASH Diet has been shown to lower blood pressure. The Pritikin Longevity Center and Dr. Dean Ornish have clear data that a 10%-calories-from-fat diet does indeed reduce cardiovascular events and in some cases reverse atherosclerosis. Dr. T. Colin Campbell has found lower rates of heart disease, obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes and cancers (breast and colon) among Chinese who eat a low-fat, plant-based diet in his Cornell-China study. People in Okinawa and Crete live into their 100s.  The common denominator of these healthy diets is to increase plant-based foods and decrease animal protein and fat.

Phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables help avert cancer; their fiber lowers LDL cholesterol and maintains well-being of the intestinal tract.
Meat contains saturated fat and cholesterol which raise cholesterol levels; animal protein has adverse effects such as releasing carcinogens upon high temperature cooking (such as grilling) and causing loss of calcium due to high amounts of amino sulfur acids.

While most experts recommend eating more fruits and vegetables, Dr. Jay Kenney, Ph.D., R.D., doesn't advocate a strict vegetarian (vegan) diet. He says it is difficult to get all necessary nutrients from a strictly vegan diet (citing B-12 as one of them); furthermore, most people would find it too depriving. Meatless meals are beneficial, though, and he encourages people to eat them more often to increase amounts of fruits and vegetables in their diets while decreasing the amounts of animal products, fat, sugar, and salt.

Here’s some tips for increasing your plant-based food sources:
Eat meatless meals at home and enjoy fish and poultry meals whenever they go out to restaurants, parties or friends’ houses.
Eat vegetarian meals during the day and enjoy meals with a small amount of fish, lean meat or poultry at night.
Plan meals around vegetable entrees instead of meat based ones. Some examples are: pasta with marinara sauce, veggie burgers, vegetarian chile and stuffed baked potatoes.
Make it a point to try new vegetables each season. By increasing your repertoire of fruits and vegetables, you will incorporate more plant based foods into your diet.
Begin your shopping in the produce section of the grocery store for inspiration. Plan your meals around what’s available and what looks good for the price.
If you are short for time, look for prepared salads and stirfry mixes. These are fast when prepared with instant brown rice, a microwaved potato or pasta and marinara sauce.

Eating Out Meatless

Just because a menu item is vegetarian doesn’t mean it’s low in fat. Vegetarian items are often loaded with oil, mayonnaise and high fat dairy items.

The important thing to remember is to ask questions and make substitutions. Here’s common items with specific requests given in parenthesis to ensure a delicious low-fat meal:
• Vegetarian Pizza (without cheese, parmesan sprinkled over the top)
• Pasta (without oil or cheese, parmesan sprinkled over the top)
• Vegetarian Sandwich (without cheese, ask for mustard and/or nonfat salad dressing )
• Baked Potatoes (with nonfat sour cream, yogurt or salsa)
• Salads (with vinegar or nonfat salad dressing)
• Stirfries, Fajitas and Sauteed items (specify using broth instead of oil to cook)

Convenient Ways to Add More Fruits and Veggies

Sandwiches are the quickest and easiest meals to prepare with more vegetables. All types of greens from spinach to red leaf lettuce can be used. Try fresh tomatoes, mushrooms and bell peppers for good flavor. Cucumbers and carrot slices add a crunchy texture while onions and chiles add a bite. For condiments, consider your favorite nonfat Italian dressing, whole grain mustard or nonfat sour cream.

• Add fruit to your breakfast cereal: strawberries, bananas and  fresh peaches, just to name a few. Birchermuesli is made with raw oats, skim milk, yogurt and a medley of your favorite sliced fruits such as apples, pears, oranges and bananas.

Pasta provides a creative medium in which you can add vegetables for variety and flavor. A simple pasta primavera dish with bought marinara sauce can be quickly spruced up with all kinds of fresh vegetables. A few ideas might include broccoli, mushrooms, eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, bell peppers and onions. The vegetables can be cooked right in the marinara sauce while you heat it up- add them in the order that they cook.

Salads, especially side salads add variety, color, flavor and texture to meals. Quick slaws can be made with prepared, shredded cabbage and your favorite nonfat dressing such as poppy seed, mustard or nonfat vinaigrette. Tossed green salads can be awakened with warm dressings by heating vegetables such as mushroom, bell peppers and onions with nonfat Italian dressing. Toppings might include bagel chips, fresh ground black pepper, an additional sprinkling of balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese.

Adaptations are always a great place to start. Can you find your own recipes and make them by adding beans instead of meat? Examples are chili without meat, pasta without meat, kabobs with mushrooms instead of meat, bean burritos or quesadillas as we have pictured above, or sloppy joe made with kidney beans instead of ground meat.

Handout: Vegetarian Quesadillas

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