A vegetarian diet can help protect you from heart disease, diabetes and stroke, according to research published in 2011 in “Diabetes Care”; it may also lower your risk for certain cancers, reports the American Cancer Society. Whether you have decided to join the vegetarian ranks for good or just want to try out the regimen for a week, you may feel daunted by the prospect of replacing meat at every meal. But with plenty of good plant-based food choices available, you may find being vegetarian is a tasty option as well as a healthy one.
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Vegetarian morning meals are a snap. Rotate your choices among plain Greek yogurt with fruit; steel-cut oatmeal sprinkled with chopped walnuts; veggie omelets made with eggs or tofu; or whole-grain toast layered with almond or cashew butter. On days when you’re in a hurry, cook hard-boiled eggs the night before to grab and go, or blend up a green smoothie to take with you to work.
You can enjoy several days of variety with your midday meal if you make it a healthful salad. Start with a base of mixed greens and chopped vegetables – mix and match each day – and add in a rotating sources of plant-based protein, like tempeh one day, seitan the next, black beans the day after that and chickpeas to round out the week. Other good lunch options include hummus with whole wheat pita and vegetables; quinoa salad with walnuts and cranberries; or leftovers from your vegetarian dinner the night before.
What's for Dinner?
Vegetarian dinner meals let you get really creative. Grill skewers of marinated tofu and vegetables and serve with brown rice. Make a pot of Tuscan bean soup with kale that will last for two nights. Slice your favorites veggies and mushrooms and stir-fry them with tofu, finishing the dish with a sauce of tamari and sesame oil. Serve black bean burgers with a side of guacamole. Bake falafel and stuff it into pita pockets with tahini dressing, tomatoes and romaine lettuce or sprouts. Make a meatless chili with crumbled tempeh and a variety of beans, and serve with cornbread for a complete meal.
Vegetarians sometimes make the mistake of increasing their cheese and carbohydrate intake when they eliminate meat from their diets. Stick with whole foods rather than processed food products that add sodium, sugar and fat to your diet. Make sure you’re getting adequate protein and fiber with each meal, which will keep you feeling satiated. Protein-rich vegetarian foods include soybeans, beans and legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains such as quinoa. Fiber is plentiful in most fruits and vegetables -- berries, oat bran, beans and whole grains are particularly good sources of this nutrient.