Go Vegetarian

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October 1 is World Vegetarian Day and the beginning of Vegetarian Awareness Month. Vegetarians tend to have healthier lifestyles than people who eat meat - for example, vegetarians smoke less - but many studies indicate that the vegetarian diet itself helps protect against disease. The American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans all recommend eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and limiting saturated fat. It's easy to do this on a vegetarian diet.
A word of warning - not all vegetarian diets are healthful. It's easy to eat too much processed, refined food that is high in calories and low in fiber, even on a vegetarian diet. Be sure to include plenty of vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains to reap the health benefits of eating vegetarian.
Now is a perfect time to enjoy autumn's bounty in meatless meals centered on colorful vegetables, legumes and grains. Vegetarian food doesn't have to include unfamiliar ingredients or be complicated to prepare. Try some of the following suggestions for making easy but delicious vegetarian meals the whole family will enjoy:
Revise your own recipes
Your favorite pastas, stir-fries, pizzas, casseroles and soups can be made healthier. Omit the meat and make these additions:
• Stir canned beans into casseroles and soups to add protein and fiber.
• Top pizza with lots of veggies -- sliced mushrooms, onions, bell pepper, broccoli, zucchini, eggplant and cooked spinach.
• Mix mashed tofu with low-fat ricotta cheese for a lasagna filling.
• Replace ground meat with veggie burger crumbles.
Go ethnic
Spice up your life with exciting flavors from other countries.
• Go Mexican with bean burritos, tacos or enchiladas. Chili can be made with vegetables and beans instead of meat.
• Go Italian with minestrone soup or the classic pasta fagiole (pasta with beans).
• Go Indian with spiced lentil dal and vegetable curry.
• Go Middle Eastern with hummus.
• Go Chinese with a vegetable stir-fry.
Try some legumes
Here are some delicious ideas for beans:
• Canned beans are quick and easy. Rinse them first to remove excess sodium.
• Add beans to tossed salads.
• Thicken soups and sauces with pureed beans. White beans (navy, great Northern, cannellini) are mild in flavor and creamy in color.
• Mashed beans can form the base for patties, croquettes, dips and spreads.
• Lentils cook in half an hour - red lentils take only twenty minutes.
By Cheryl Sullivan, MA, RD.

Keep it Quick

Make your vegetarian meals simple and quick. Here are a few easy ideas:
• Bake potatoes in the microwave and top with canned beans and salsa.
• Mix fresh or frozen vegetables with pasta sauce and serve over whole grain pasta.
• Fill a whole grain pita pocket with leftover chili.
• Jazz up a peanut butter sandwich with shredded carrots and apples.
Red Lentil Stew
1 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped onions
4 cups water
1-1/4 cups red lentils
2 potatoes, cubed
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped zucchini
1 tsp oregano
pinch cayenne pepper
Heat a large pot over medium high heat. Add the oil and sauté the onions and garlic until golden, about 3 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered about 20 minutes, until potatoes and lentils are tender.
Serves 6. Each serving (1 cup): 146 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 23 mg sodium, 28 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 7 g protein.

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