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The second week of September is Vegetarian Awareness Week. There are numerous health benefits to gain from incorporating more vegetables, fruits and plant-based proteins into your diet. With more restaurant and grocery store offering vegetarian options, now is a great time to explore a more plant-based lifestyle!
The term “vegetarian” used to simply mean someone who did not eat meat, but its growing popularity has lead to more terminology to define the different types of vegetarianism.
- Pesco-vegetarians include fish in their diets
- Lacto-vegetarians include dairy products
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians include eggs and dairy
- Vegans omit all animal products
Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stage of the life cycle, including pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, children and even athletes. A plant-based diet is associated with lower risk of death from heart disease and cancer, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and lower risk of Type II diabetes compared to a non-vegetarian diet. Vegetarians also tend to have a healthier weight. Why does eating meat-free offer these health benefits? Vegetarian diets may reduce risk of chronic disease due to lower intakes of cholesterol and saturated fat. Additionally, higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and soy found in vegetarian diets results in increased intake of fiber, phytochemicals, and other heart-healthy nutrients.
Not only does vegetarianism offer health benefits, but it also plays a role in preserving the environment. By choosing a more plant-based diet you can reduce your ecological footprint by decreasing the amount of land, water, and oil resources used to raise animals for food.
If you are interested in adopting a vegetarian diet, consider starting out by going “meatless” for one day a week. Switch to a more plant-based diet gradually to find vegetarian foods that you enjoy!
Try some of these healthful vegetarian meal ideas:
- Instant oatmeal made with low-fat milk* or soymilk with nuts and dried cranberries
- Almond butter on a slice of whole-grain toast topped with apple slices
- Tofu or egg* scramble with vegetables and cheese*
- Veggies sandwich with hummus, tomato, pepper, onion, and avocado in a whole grain pita
- Main dish salad with your choice of vegetables, beans, hard-boiled eggs* or tofu, fruit and nuts
- Chili made with beans and textured vegetable protein plus shredded cheese* and cornbread
- Tofu or shrimp* and vegetable stir-fry with brown rice
- Tacos or burritos filled with beans, textured vegetable protein, tofu or tempeh
- Vegetable burger or falafel with mushrooms and tomato on a whole-grain bun
- Trail mix with nuts, seeds and dried fruit
- Raw veggies with hummus
- Apple with peanut butter
- Yogurt* or soy yogurt topped with fruit
*omit for vegan diet