Research suggests that eating less meat might help lower your risk for heart disease, certain types of cancer, hypertension and diabetes.
If the thought of becoming vegetarian is overwhelming, ease into it by going meatless once a week.
Meatless Monday is a public awareness campaign that was created in 2003 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which challenges people to start by eating meat-free one day a week.
There are several types of vegetarianism:
- Vegan is the strictest form of vegetarianism, as all animal products are eliminated — meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, eggs, honey and any animal by products.
- Pescetarian is someone who avoids meat but will eat fish or seafood.
- Ovo-vegetarians allow eggs.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat both eggs and dairy.
- Flexitarians are perhaps the newest addition to the vegetarians and is someone that is "semi-vegetarian" incorporating several vegetarian meals into the diet, and perhaps restricting select items.
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Whichever option you choose, you do not have to commit 100 percent to achieve the health benefits that vegetarians enjoy.
What makes meatless meals such a healthful option? By eating less meat, intake of whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables increases. Vegetarian diets are typically lower in total calories, saturated fat and cholesterol and higher in fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
There are some key nutrients that animal products do offer, so if you choose vegetarianism, there are some nutrients that you will need to include in your diet.
Animal products are a rich source of protein, so when cutting back or eliminating meat, you will need to ensure that your diet is adequate in protein.
Plant-based protein sources include legumes, nuts, soy and if you choose to consume milk, cheese or eggs.
Each meal and snack should contain a source of protein. B12 is a vitamin that is important for red blood cell growth and nervous system maintenance and is only found naturally in meat, dairy and eggs. If you choose to eliminate dairy and eggs, look for vitamin B12-fortified vegetarian products such as vegan cheese, yogurt, fortified cereals and meat analogs.
Calcium is important for bone health and if you choose to skip dairy products, so you should focus on plant-based calcium sources such as broccoli, figs, enriched bread, and fortified vegetarian foods.
Vitamin D works along with calcium for bone health and is typically found in fortified milk, salmon and egg yolks. Red meat is a rich source of iron, which is needed for red blood cell formation, so choose a variety of plant based iron rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, prunes, raisins, and fortified cereals and meat analog products.
Meat, seafood and animal products are also rich sources of zinc, so eat a variety of plant-based zinc-rich foods such as whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and meat analogs.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have a protective effect against heart disease and certain types of cancer. Fatty fishes are rich sources as are flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans, soybean oil and olive oil. You may wish to discuss a multivitamin/mineral supplement with your physician or registered dietitian to ensure all of your needs are being met.
Stock up on vegetarian cookbooks to increase variety in your diet, but you don't necessarily need vegetarian recipes. Whichever option you choose, by being creative, you can easily adapt any recipe and turn it into a healthful vegetarian meal with a few simple changes.
Substitute cooked legumes for meat in soups, stews and casseroles.
Try tofu or tempeh and use in place of meats.
Incorporate meat analogs such as veggie patties, sausage, bacon and chicken.
If you choose to eliminate dairy products, substitute soy milk, cheese and yogurt in recipes.
Melissa Tewes is the clinical nutrition manager at Meritus Medical Center. She has 16 years of experience as a registered dietitian and is also a certified personal trainer.
Recipe: Black bean burgers with avocado and sweet corn relish
Many of us have tried black bean burgers in the past — pressed, bland patties with little flavor and even less visual appeal.
This do-it-yourself grilled black bean burger with avocado and sweet corn relish recipe, takes the stereotypical black bean burger and transforms it into a quick and delicious alternative to the traditional beef hamburger.
Southwestern spices give the sandwich its flavor while the avocado and sweet corn relish both compliment and contrast its earthy texture.
This recipe is easily modifiable, simply omit the cheese for a vegan alternative or add jalapeno peppers for a spicy twist. Any way you choose to prepare them, these versatile, healthful burgers will be a hit at your next cookout.
— Joe Fleischman is executive chef at Meritus Medical Center. He has 20 years of experience as a professional chef, culinary instructor and speaker.
Black bean burgers with avocado and sweet corn relish
3 cups black beans, drained and rinsed
2 ounces green pepper strips
2 ounces sliced yellow onion
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon fajita seasoning
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon fresh chopped cilantro
1/3 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 avocado, sliced
Sweet corn relish (see recipe below)
Place beans in a large mixing bowl, using a large spoon or measuring cup coarsely mash beans until they take on a grayish appearance and become pasty. Place green pepper, onion, garlic, cumin, fajita seasoning, lime juice and cilantro in blender. Pulse contents until well mixed but still slightly chunky. Add contents of blender to black beans along with Panko crumbs and thoroughly combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Take about 4 ounces of the black bean mixture and form into a 1/4-inch thick patty. Refrigerate patties for at least 1 hour.
Place black bean burgers on a well-greased gas or charcoal grill and cook for 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until burgers are browned and crispy. Remove burger and place on toasted Kaiser Roll, top with sliced avocado and sweet corn relish.
Makes 6 burgers.
Sweet corn relish
1 cup sweet corn kernels, cooked
1 cup diced tomato
1/4 cup diced green pepper
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Place corn, tomato, green pepper and red onion in a large mixing bowl, toss well. In a separate mixing bowl, add the white vinegar and garlic. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until well combined and slightly thickened. Pour vinaigrette over corn mixture and combine well.
Refrigerate relish for 2 to 3 hours prior to serving, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as necessary.