Quit giving side glances to the vegetarian who loves bacon! It's not easy to commit to going meatless (especially when there are so many awesome ways to eat pork!). Instead take a cue from these herbivores with wandering tastebuds, and become a part-time vegetarian yourself as a way to pump up your produce intake and improve your health.
“Opting for vegetarian meals more often during the week can cut out much of the saturated fat that comes with eating animal protein,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, a registered dietitian in New York City, and founder of The F-Factor Diet. “Vegetables are an excellent source of nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber, which support a healthy digestive system while lowering cholesterol and controlling blood sugars. Additionally, fiber helps prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers, such as breast and colon cancer, and more,” explains Zuckerbrot, who cites a recent Loma Linda University study that found that people on a semi-plant-based diet were 12 percent less likely to die compared to non-vegetarians.
If you want to reap the benefits of being vegetarian without swearing off steak for good, follow these get-more-greens tips from Cindi Avila, the first vegetarian chef on Food Network's Chopped.
1. Keep kale in your kitchen. Considering all the ways you can sneak it into your diet, a bag of kale will never go to waste: Toss it into almost any dish, juice it, use as a salad base or sandwich garnish, make it into a side dish, or kale chips.
2. Stock up on canned beans. They are packed with protein and iron and can take the place of meat in almost any dish. They are usually under a dollar a can and low in calories and fat too!
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3. Pick up pre-packaged vegetarian foods. Usually located in the produce section, not the freezer aisle, you can find brands such as Veggie Patch offering pre-made foods like Falafel & Red Lentil Cakes. At just 140 calories per serving, you can get 20 percent of your daily fiber intake and 6 grams of protein.
4. Go nuts. Some nuts, like our favorite from American Pistachio Growers, have really all the protein you need to power through the day. They can be eaten alone or in salads, side dishes, cereals and more. Also, always keep a bag in your purse for a quick burst of energy and nutrition.
5. Have healthy spreads on hand. Always have hummus, like Tribe's new To Go single-serving snack pack with pita chips, or all-natural almond butter, like Justin's Nut Butters. In a pinch, spread some on a pita or wrap and you have a healthy veg snack or lunch.