If you think steak and eggs are the the only way to pack in the protein, think again. While the myth of never consuming enough protein is still around, the idea of going vegetarian at least once a week, aka “Meatless Monday,” is growing in popularity. The good news is that regularly eating dishes made with powerful plant proteins like beans, legumes, tofu and whole grains can help prevent and reverse heart disease, cancer and diabetes. It’s no surprise that vegetarians who regularly chow down on these antioxidant-packed foods weigh less and live longer than their meat-eating counterparts.
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Now don’t fret — you don’t have to go cold turkey (pun intended) and swear off sausage and chicken forevermore. Research suggests that being a “flexitarian,” or someone who eats primarily vegetarian but has meat or fish occasionally, yields similar health benefits. So whether you give up meat every other day, once a week, or once a month, decreasing your meat consumption is a surefire way to boost your health (not to mention that of the planet).
Before we get into the recipes, let’s delve into some fun facts veggie style. Did you know spirulina, a super nutrient-dense blue green algae, is one of the highest protein foods on the planet? Or that pumpkin seeds have 7 grams of protein per serving? Or that half a cup of peas has 4 grams of protein? Long story short, protein is found in all foods and as long as you’re getting sufficient calories, it’s likely you’re getting plenty of protein.
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If you’re ready to try some meatless meals, we’ve got you covered with these oh-so-delicious (and totally nutritious) meatless swaps.
Replace the typical ground beef for zesty chickpea pecan filling. Even the truest of carnivores love this spin on the classic. To make, pulse a can of drained chickpeas with half a cup of toasted pecans in the food processor until finely chopped. In a medium saucepan, warm on the stove with about half a cup of water and season with plenty of taco seasoning to taste. Serve with avocado, salsa and jalapenos in corn taco shells or tucked into sweet potatoes.
Add baked tofu to your veggie and brown rice stir fry. To make baked tofu, drain and press a block of extra firm tofu. Slice into 8 squares. Marinate in 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce, 1 tablespoon vegetable or peanut oil, 1 tablespoon maple syrup and a pinch of garlic for at least 20 minutes. Put in a baking dish and cook at 400°F for 40 minutes, turning over halfway through cooking.
This classic, hearty meal is delicious without all the meat. Load up on beans, lentils and/or quinoa for protein that won’t weigh you down. Add veggies like peppers, spinach, corn, carrots and celery. Don’t go easy on the spices, either — a big pinch of cinnamon or cocoa powder can deliver a huge boost in flavor.
Whip up a batch of simple bean burgers and serve on toasty, whole-grain buns with plenty of avocado, lettuce, tomato, onions and condiments galore. For extra kick, add chopped jalapeno or chipotle peppers in adobo to the bean mixture.
Ditch the meatballs and whip up a batch of bean balls instead. Serve atop whole-grain pasta or spaghetti squash with a big side salad and roasted broccoli.