In yesterday's post, I mentioned that vegan meals have been linked to a boost in calorie burning. That may be one reason why an Oxford University study of nearly 38,000 adults found that meat-eaters had the highest BMIs for their ages and vegans the lowest, with vegetarians and semi-vegetarians in between. Weight control aside, there's a lot of buzz about veganism these days, but even if you aren't interested in giving up meat, fish, and dairy completely, eating plant-based meals more often can definitely benefit your health and waistline. Trouble is a lot of people don't know where to start. Here are three simple tricks for transforming omnivore dishes into veggie delights— without using processed faux meats and cheeses:
Replace Meat with Beans or Lentils
In nearly any dish— from tacos and fajitas to stuffed peppers, pasta dishes, soups and stir-frys— you can simply replace 3 ounces of meat, poultry or seafood with a half cup of beans or lentils. These hearty replacements provide protein, minerals, and bonus fiber, and that satisfaction factor that keeps you fuller longer and delays the return of hunger. Great options include black bean tacos, veggie chili with kidney beans, veggies sautéed in extra-virgin olive oil tossed with whole-grain pasta and cannellini beans, lentils tossed with pesto served with sautéed veggies and whole grain cous cous, soups made with vegetable or tomato broth, veggies, barley and fava beans, and edamame stir-fry over brown or wild rice.
Swap Eggs for Tofu
Tofu scramble is one of my favorite weekend breakfast meals, because it's filling and fast. Just sautée veggies of your choice (I love fresh spinach, onions, red bell peppers and mushrooms) in extra-virgin olive oil with garlic until tender, then add extra-firm organic tofu (cut into 1'' cubes or crumbled) to heat through. Serve with whole-grain toast and avocado, or whole corn tortillas, pico de gallo and guacamole. It's also fantastic with curry seasoning and roasted red potatoes. Sliced extra-firm tofu also makes a terrific replacement for an egg in a breakfast sandwich, and when crumbled it's a perfect alternative to hard-boiled eggs in egg salad made with mustard-y vegan mayo.
Trade Dairy for "Creamy" Plants
My husband is a huge, huge fan of cheese. I'm sure he'll never give it up, but since we met, he has expanded his food horizons (and lost 50 pounds), and he now truly enjoys dairy-free items such as ice cream made from coconut milk, and creamy dressing made from tahini. In the right combinations, ingredients like roasted and mashed cauliflower, pureed nuts and seeds, avocado, silken tofu, and coconut can mimic the rich flavor and velvety texture of dairy products. I completed a vegan, organic culinary program several years ago, and I was blown away by how just how creative you can get with plant-based foods and how satisfying they can be.
If you're interested in more, check out my recent post about replacing whey protein powder with pea powder, which is becoming one of the most popular muscle builders on the market.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.