HOLD THE MEAT, PASS ON THE DAIRY, AND LOAD UP ON PLANTS
Heidi Hayes, Exercise Physiologist and Freelance blogger, has been a FRÉ ambassador since December 2017.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, Americans on average eat 270 pounds of meat a year. That is more than double the USDA recommended maximum protein consumption of 125 pounds per year. Basically most of us are EATING ENTIRELY TOO MUCH MEAT and not mixing up our protein sources, aka TASTY DELICIOUS PLANTS ☺. Researchers at USC found that middle-aged people with diets rich in animal proteins (meat, fish, cheeses, dairy, eggs, etc) were FOUR TIMES MORE LIKELY, than those who ate less, or no animal products, to die of cancer. They followed a large group of people for nearly two decades and found that protein-lovers were 74 percent more likely to die of any cause within the study period than their more low-protein counterparts. Making it clear we need to rethink what kind of foods we are eating.
Not ready to go plant-based cold turkey, or in this case, no turkey? You can test-drive the health benefits of a meat-free lifestyle by adopting Meatless Monday. Take just one day a week to keep animal products off your plate for all meals. Any time you substitute plants for animal products you decrease the saturated fats and increase the fiber and phytonutrients in your meal. Your body will thank you! If you’re eating plants, it’s going to be beneficial to your health (and skipping meat one day a week benefits our planet’s health too).
The United Nations estimates the meat industry is responsible for one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions… eeeek! Your inner carnivore might be concerned that you won’t feel full after a day of eating only “rabbit food”, but plants; fruits, vegetables and whole grains can provide all of the satiating fiber, protein, calcium, and nutrients that you need. Yes, protein and calcium are found in almost all plant foods, so please don’t get held up in that area. Did you know green leafy vegetables contain more calcium than a glass of milk? And calorie for calorie broccoli has more protein than a steak!
Below I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite ways to add more plants!
Replace Meat with Veggies in Lasagna
Vegetable lasagna is an awesome way to use up almost any veggies you’ve got in the fridge. Mushrooms? Go for it! Spinach? Why not? Carrots? Heck yes! Sauté up the veggies and mix into the tomato sauce, then follow your favorite lasagna recipe, omitting the meat. You can also add even more vegetables by subbing your noodles for plants as well! Check out zucchini lasagna and spaghetti squash lasagna recipes online! They are mouth wateringly good!
Take Over Taco Night
Protein-packed lentils or beans can be used in many recipes as an easy ground beef substitute. Lentils cook quickly (usually in about 30 minutes or so) which makes them an easy substitution, and if you want to decrease your dinner preparation even further, opt for 1-2 cans of low sodium, organic black beans, which are already cooked (just make sure to rinse them before use)! You can then flavor your lentils or beans with traditional taco seasonings like chili powder, tomatoes, red pepper, garlic cumin, and onion to give them the right zesty taco flavor you love. Lentils and beans are both low in fat and high in fiber! As an added plus, beans and lentils are much less expensive per ounce than lean hamburger meat or ground turkey.
Build a Better Burger
Bringing in beans for ground beef is an easy way to cut fat and improve a meal’s nutrient quality. Beans are a super source of fiber. They are also high in protein, contain no fat, are tasty and can be seasoned anyway possible! Smaller beans like black, white, or pinto, garbanzo (chickpeas) stick together more easily when forming your burger patties. To make burger patties, mash one can of beans with the seasonings of your choice, combine with a can of whole beans, and feel free to add extra vegetables, and even some quinoa, for good measure. Form into patties, fire up the grill, and cook 3 minutes on each side. Beans take on other flavors well and taste great topped with the usual burger fixings. If the patty is made out of brownish-pink pinto beans, it even looks like meat. It’s a friendly way to fool your friends and family members into eating healthier. If your family won’t budge use ½ beans and ½ ground turkey or beef for an easy transition.
Choose: Quinoa Over White Rice and Refined Pasta.
Quinoa is a quick-cooking whole grain and complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids (those not produced by the body, so we need to get them from food). In fact, compared to white rice and pasta, quinoa has two times the amount of protein. It’s also a great source of iron and zinc (key nutrients for healthy cells), making it a nutritious and delicious addition to meatless meals. You can grind it into flour, use it as a filling, have it as a side, or make it the main event of your meal; the possibilities of this wonder grain are endless!
Choose: Avocados over butter.
When cookie, cake, muffin, and/or quick bread recipes call for room temperature (soft) butter, use an equal amount of fresh avocado instead; amazingly, the healthy vegetable lends a rich creaminess to batters without imparting its flavor. And check this out: 1/2 cup of unsalted butter has 803 calories and 58 grams saturated fat, while 1/2 cup of fresh avocado has 120 calories and 1 gram saturated fat. One simple swap, and you’ll dodge 683 calories. You can also swap in canned pumpkin, or pureed sweet potatoes as well!
Eat a Veggie Omelet
Rather than the same old bacon-and-eggs, or a meat and cheese omelet, go for a veggie omelet loaded with spinach, mushrooms, peppers, or tomatoes, with low-fat cheese or even no cheese to save about 100-200 calories.
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Blend up a Green Smoothie
For those who struggle to eat enough fruits and veggies, smoothies can be a fabulous way to squeeze in important vitamins, but they can also sneak in lots of unwanted added sugar. Revamp your smoothie recipe to save calories and reduce added sugars: Add in a 1-2 cup of raw greens like spinach or kale, subtract any added sweeteners, and rely on fruit like mango or banana for sweetness.
Prepare the Perfect Parm
The oblong shape of eggplant makes it easy to slice into cutlets as a veggie stand-in for chicken. The benefits don’t stop at a lower calorie count: Studies show that the phytonutrients found in eggplant lower cholesterol, prevent cancer-promoting cell damage, and lessen joint damage, a prime factor in rheumatoid arthritis. But before you cook, be warned that eggplants spongy flesh soaks up oil–and a tablespoon of oil contains nearly 120 calories- try baking your pretty purple plant instead of frying!
Fake a Philly Cheesesteak
Use a hearty Portobello mushroom to replace the beef in a sandwich like a Philly cheesesteak. Mixing mushrooms into your meal increases fiber, decreases saturated fat, and lowers calories. Use a quarter cup of mushrooms in each fake Philly, which will add less than 30 calories to the meal. Top off your sammie with plenty of grilled onions and peppers to get a healthy dose of vitamins A and C.
Make mushrooms your main squeeze
You can swap mushrooms for some of the ground beef in just about any dish — like spaghetti with meat sauce or sloppy joes. Since they’re so mildly flavored, the mushrooms will absorb the sauce you’re cooking in and won’t steal the show. This puts this plant powered sloppy joe under 250 calories per serving.
Pasta is a classic comfort food. To lighten it up, feel fuller, and save calories, reduce the overall amount of pasta and add lots of veggies. If you (or your family) aren’t that into vegetables, you can cook chopped veggies along with the pasta for the last 1-2 minutes of cooking time, then toss with a flavorful sauce, like tomato, to hide the flavor of the vegetables. However, if veggies are your jam, simply sauté whatever you’ve got on hand, toss them in with your cooked pasta, and add a bit of oil and cheese. You can also sub your traditional noodles for some tasty lentil, chickpea, or black bean pasta, I promise it tastes the same and the change will go unnoticed. You can find these at Aldi (most choices), Walmart, Pick ‘n Save or Festival!
Veggify your noodles
Taking the pasta-and-veggies idea one step further than the pasta primavera, you can also spiralize (or simply thinly slice) vegetables like: carrots, butternut-squash, zucchini (zoodles) and leave out the pasta completely. You can also try out spaghetti squash which closely mimics the texture of noodles! Festival sells freshly spiralized vegetables so you don’t have to spiralize them yourself ☺
Mash cauliflower into your potatoes
Mashed potatoes aren’t exactly a health food, but you can give them a makeover by adding cauliflower. Replace half the potatoes with an equal amount of cauliflower (boil until soft, just as you would potatoes), then prepare your recipe as usual. Cup-for-cup, cauliflower has less than one-fourth the calories of potatoes and is far more nutrient dense.
Swap in Peppers for Pepperoni
Pizza isn’t inherently unhealthy, but the toppings we add (like extra, extra cheese and 6 kinds of meat and using the thick crust) can add a lot of calories. Instead of meat, eat pizza with lots of veggies on a thin or cauliflower crust.
Lighten Up your Chili
Meat lovers may scoff, but a food that’s naturally big on flavor, like chili, is an excellent candidate for “veggifying”. You won’t even miss the high-calorie beef here! You can either go all-in with a fully vegetarian chili, or replace some of the beef in your usual recipe with sautéed mushrooms and peppers, or check out this pumpkin chili recipe.
What’s the deal with Tofu and Tempeh?
When you begin to adopt more of a plant based diet you are going to run across some soy. Soy gets a bad rap when it finds its way into foods that it doesn’t belong in (soy filler in processed foods… aka just stay away from processed foods)… However organic whole soy which is in Tofu and Tempeh is not only a low-calorie, low-fat, source of protein, but the American Cancer Society states that eating soy foods like tofu and tempeh may help lower the risk of many cancers. 1 cup of tofu has 20 grams of protein and 1 cup of tempeh has 30 grams, talk about a protein powerhouse.
Tofu, which is made of condensed soy milk that is pressed into solid white blocks, is the longtime staple of vegetarian diets, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay a bland block. You may have had tofu in the past, however most people are unaware of how to actually prepare it. Mix with your favorite veggies and a sauce of your choice for a savory stir-fry. There are tons of tofu marinades on the internet, or in some of my favorite cookbooks listed below! For example, toss your ingredients with chopped basil and rice vinegar, red pepper flakes, and orange juice, or lemon zest and coconut milk. Tofu really picks up the flavors in the meal while adding bulk and substance. When buying tofu I look for the organic firm or extra firm tofu. You will want to take it out of the package and gently squeeze out the liquid using paper towels. Getting the moisture out of the tofu is key – once you have gently squeezed out the water take paper towels and wrap up your tofu, put it between 2 plates, and place something heavy on the top plate, such as a book or can of beans. Usually tofu should be pressed for around ½ an hour to get out all the liquid.
Tempeh, is also made from soybeans except it’s fermented, which gives it an extra bonus. Fermented foods help provide your gut with healthy bacteria that help your body digest food easier and speed up absorption in our system! Tempeh is a great choice for people who have difficulty digesting plant-based high-protein foods, like beans and legumes, or soy foods such as tofu. You can find tempeh at most grocery stores. Look for the organic variety. Tempeh can be used in almost any recipe in place of meat. Tempeh, which has a nutty flavor, can be cooked and seasoned just like ground beef or turkey- thrown into chili, used with black beans as a filling for tacos or burritos, cut into planks and sautéed… the possibilities are endless!
Nutritional yeast can be a flavor savor if you are trying to cut out animal products, including cheese. While is might be scary to think about limiting, or cutting out entirely, a childhood favorite, cheese is one food many of us tend to overeat. An indulgence that comes at a high price… high amounts of saturated fat that is, which hardly friendly to your arteries. Nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast, which is most commonly sold in the bulk section of most grocery stores. Although vegans and vegetarians primarily choose nutritional yeast for its nutritional value, almost anyone can appreciate its savory, nutty, and cheesy flavor. Because of its taste, it is often used in vegan dishes as cheese substitute. Due to its texture it is also used to thicken sauces and dressings. Nutritional yeast is usually fortified with vitamin B-12, the combination of B vitamins along with other nutrients makes it a fantastic gluten-free superfood. It is an excellent way to boost immunity, improve digestion, promote healthy hair and skin, prevent birth defects, and more. You can find nutritional yeast at your local nutritional health store or online!
My Favorite Plant based Cookbooks
- Thug Kitchen – The Official Cookbook (My absolute favorite)
- Thug Kitchen 101
- The Minimalist Baker’s Every Day Cooking
- Forks of Knives
- The Oh She Grows Cookbook
- Vegan 101: A Vegan Cookbook
- My Fams Favorite Plant Based Meals:
- Tofu Scramble Tacos
- Pumpkin Chili
- Smoked Almond Chickpea Salad Sammie
- Dry Fried Tofu and green beans (10 minute deal tofuuuu real)
- Temphe BLT (featured picture)