By Alexis Travers, Dietetic Intern from Purdue University
As a vegetarian I often get funny looks or questions of “how?”, “why?” or “but what about bacon?” Being a vegetarian isn’t about giving up what you love, it’s about embracing healthy alternatives and still enjoying your food. Therefore, I am challenging you to participate in Meatless Monday and try a vegetarian meal option once a week and discover your love of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other protein sources.
Health benefits of a plant-based diet
- Vegetarian diets have heart health benefits and can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease
- Plant-based diets are high in antioxidants and can help prevent cancer
- A plant based diet reduces your risk of developing kidney stones by 50%
- According the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vegetarians have a lower prevalence of obesity and Type 2 diabetes
- Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber which are good for digestive health and help keep you full for longer
- Plant-based protein options are often more budget friendly that meat—compare low-sodium canned beans at 5 cents per ounce to lean ground beef costing 31 cents per ounce.
Beans are a low-cost protein option that are also high in fiber. Either look for low-sodium canned options or purchase dried beans. These can be incorporated in Mexican dishes, stir fry, soups, or hummus.
Lentils are a type of legume that provide the body with protein, fiber, and are low in calories. Lentils improve heart health, help regulate blood glucose, and provide fiber for digestive health. Lentils are great in soup or on top of a salad!
Edamame is a variety of soybean that is high in protein and can be found in the frozen vegetable section. It is easily steamed and added to skillet meals such as a stir fry or pasta dish.
Meat alternatives can be found in the frozen section and can be substituted to create vegetarian friendly meals. Meatless crumbles can be used to replace ground beef in a recipe, and are less expensive too!
Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, peanuts, and nut butters are good sources of protein that can be incorporated in your diet several ways. Walnuts are great on salads, peanut butter with an apple is a healthy snack, or almonds on oatmeal boosts the protein at breakfast. Just make sure you are watching your serving sizes, because nuts are also good sources of fats.
Dairy products provide a good amount of protein per serving and also contribute vitamin D and calcium for bone health. Milk, milk alternatives such as soy milk or almond milk, low-fat cheese or cottage cheese, and yogurts are good dairy options. Try to stick to the low-fat, light, or non-fat for lower calorie options. Tip: Consider Greek yogurt in place of sour cream in dishes for a healthy, high protein alternative.
Eggs or egg substitutes
Eggs are a good source of protein for vegetarians that still consume these products or egg substitutes can be utilized as well. Eggs are a great start to the morning, can be used as protein on a salad, or incorporated into dinners for a fun twist. I love Upside Down night (or breakfast for dinner) and enjoy finding new ways to prepare my eggs. See below for a recipe with a twist on scrambled eggs.
- 1 large eggplant
- Olive oil spray
- 12 oz of French bread or whole wheat baguette, sliced
- 4 slices low-fat mozzarella cheese
- 2 tbsp pesto sauce
- 8 thin tomato slices
Slice eggplant into ¼ inch thick slices. Spray skillet with olive oil and cook eggplant slices for 7-8 minutes, turning once. Place 3 eggplant slices onto a bread slice, top with 1 slice of mozzarella, ½ tbsp. pesto, and 2 slices of tomato. Place top slice of bread onto sandwich and lightly spray with olive oil. Grill in skillet or Panini press until cheese melts and bread is toasted. Serves 4. Enjoy!
This dish is high in fiber, low in cholesterol, and pairs great with a fresh fruit side!
- 8 oz whole wheat fettuccine
- Olive oil cooking spray
- 1 cup chunky style salsa
- ⅓ cup corn, frozen
- ¼ cup water
- 2 tbsp chili sauce
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 can (15 oz) black beans, low-sodium
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Cook pasta according to directions, drain. Lightly spray pasta noodles with olive oil spray and toss. This will prevent the noodles from sticking together.
In a saucepan, mix remaining ingredients except cilantro. Cook over medium heat-4 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Top pasta with black bean mixture and sprinkle with cilantro if desired. Serves 4. Enjoy!
This dish is low fat, dairy-free, high in fiber, and under 400 calories!
Upside Down Night: Vegetable Egg Scramble
- 2 eggs
- 2 tbsp shredded mozzarella cheese
- ½ cup spinach
- 2 tbsp mushrooms, chopped
- 2 tsbp bell pepper, chopped
- Olive oil spray
- Dried basil
Using a medium skillet, spray with olive oil and sauté vegetables until tender, about 4-5 minutes. In a bowl, scramble eggs and lightly season with basil as desired. Add scrambled eggs to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until eggs are done. Top with shredded cheese and serve immediately. Enjoy this dish with whole wheat toast or some whole grain waffles and a side of fruit. Serves 1.
You can use any leftover fresh vegetables you have on hand! Other vegetables great with eggs: onions, tomatoes, kale, scallions, olives, and many more.