Although there is no one-size-fits-all diet, skipping meat once in a while may be worth a try. It’s a sensible way to get more plant-based nutrition into your diet, which research shows may promote a healthy heart, boost immunity and help with appetite control and weight management. (1)
There are many ways to eat plant-based foods without going full vegan – which allows no animal products at all. A Lacto-ovo vegetarian style diet allows for dairy products and eggs, while a Mediterranean diet is plant-based but allows meats and seafood in moderation. Some people call themselves “flexitarians” and choose to eat vegetarian a few days or a few meals a week.
If you’re interested in giving a plant-based diet a try but aren’t sure what to eat, you’ll be surprised at the selection of delicious and satisfying options available. There are obvious foods like tofu, canned beans, pasta, and grains, but there many new options you may not be aware of. Let’s explore them!
Don’t worry about getting enough protein
As long as you include a wide variety of foods in your diet, you’ll get enough protein. Soy products, beans, lentils, grains, and nuts can easily take the place of meat in any meal. If you’re not vegan, you can add in eggs and dairy. Vegans do need to eat more protein since the protein contained in plant foods is not as digestible as those in meats and animal products. (2)
Don’t sweat the dairy, either! You don’t need milk to get your daily dose of calcium. Consider adding more greens such as collards and turnips or tofu prepared with calcium sulfate. You can also supplement with calcium-fortified foods like orange juice and almond or soy milk. Be sure to check the label of the products you buy to see how much calcium you are getting.
You may have heard that compounds called isoflavones in soy foods can act like estrogen in the body and result in increasing the risk of breast cancer. In human studies, soy has been found to either reduce the risk of breast cancer or to have no effect on cancer risk. (3) So switch out steak for seitan and turkey for tofu – even occasionally – and you’ll be adding variety and good nutrition to your meals. Raley’s offers a wide range of soy-based foods including yogurt, cheese, milk and ice cream, soy-based “meats” and many types of tofu for nutritious meals and snacks.
Reconfigure your plate
If you’re used to a traditional dinner of meat with a starch and a vegetable, you’ll need to adjust your thinking! Vegetarian meals are often combinations of protein, carbohydrate and fat all in the same dish (think bean and spinach burritos with Monterey Jack cheese, pizza topped with broccoli and fresh mozzarella or whole grain pasta with roasted veggies and pine nuts). Without meat as the center of the plate, these types of dishes can allow more room for nutrient-dense vegetables and offer more opportunity to experiment with new flavors from around the world.
Check raleys.com for hundreds of tempting vegetarian recipes. To find them, go to the Recipes page, choose “Nutritional” in the left column and then choose “Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian.” Another useful vegetarian recipe and information source is Meatless Monday at MeatlessMonday.com. They promote the benefits of going meat-free every Monday and serve up a multitude of simple, family-friendly recipes that make it easy to fit healthy meals into busy schedules.