Make it a meatless Monday to lose weight

Are you one of the millions of Americans that chose to make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight? Eating a meal or two each week that is plant-based may be one way to help you get to that goal weight. No, you don’t have to give up red meat and pork chops completely and become a full-time vegetarian to lose weight and eat healthy. However, keep in mind that vegetarians have lower rates of most chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, stroke, diverticulosis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and certain types of cancers (such as lung, colon, stomach, mouth, larynx, esophagus, bladder and maybe prostrate cancers). There is also evidence that a more plant-based eating plan can decrease the risk for macular degeneration and neural tube defects. Also, many vegetarians are significantly less likely to be overweight and obese. There is research that measured BMI (Body Mass Index), percentage body fat, and hip-to-waist ratios, showed that vegetarians scored much better than their meat-eating counterparts.
So, what do they know that we don’t know? It isn’t that there is a big secret in the vegetarian world. What they are doing is filling their plates with vegetables, whole grains, fruit, and non-meat protein (such as lentils, black beans, tofu, veggie burgers, soy crumbles, tempeh and low fat cheeses). By choosing those types of foods, a vegetarian is getting a large dose of fiber, phytochemicals (naturally existing plant chemicals that benefit the body), vitamins, minerals, heart healthy fats, adequate protein and, most often, a lot less fat & calories.
Keep in mind that you can be an overweight, and even an obese vegetarian. It is not a given that eating more vegetarian meals means automatically that you will lose tons of weight. This is because some people will smother their nutritious vegetarian foods with ooey-gooey, high-fat, high-calorie cream sauces, butter, oils and cheeses. They also may bump up their weight by using high-fat/calorie cooking techniques (think batter-dipped and fried). In the same way meat-eaters aren’t supposed to fry, vegetarians should follow suit by cooking foods in a healthy manner (e.g. bake broil, grill, steam, microwave, blacken, stew, sauté, etc.). Simply put, just because a person eats a plant-based diet, it does not mean that basic healthy cooking principles can be ignored.
If you love your chicken stir-fry and couldn’t think of giving up pulled pork, don’t fret. You can have those meals on other days. Just choose one day, Monday for example, and make it a meatless meal day. Examples of easy meals for eating meatless are listed below to help you try this new style of eating; complement each with a side salad or steamed or cut up raw veggies, a piece of fruit and a cup of low-fat milk –
Familiar Meatless Meals
1. A bowl of split pea or lentil soup with a slice of whole grain bread
2. A baked potato stuffed with vegetarian chili topped with a sprinkle of low fat cheese
3. A peanut butter (natural style, preferably) and jelly (no sugar added) sandwich on whole grain bread
4. One English muffin pizza made on a whole grain muffin with tomato sauce, low-fat cheese &topped with peppers, onions, broccoli
New Meatless Foods to Try
1. First-time tofu: Buy extra-firm tofu, drain out liquid, cut into dice-sized pieces and place in a bowl. Pour your favorite salad dressing on top and cover bowl with tight fitting lid. Let marinate in fridge at least one hour. Next, make a salad. Spoon out tofu with a slotted spoon, and place ½ cup of cubes on top of salad.
2. Soy crumbles: Add 1 package of crumbles to a jar of tomato sauce in a medium size pot over medium heat. Cook until heated through; serve 1 cup of “meat sauce” over 1 cup pasta. Use crumbles as the “meat” in stuffed peppers, lasagna, tacos- anywhere you would use ground meat.
3. Instead of chicken in a casserole, use a layer of canned/drained peas or beans (such as chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans). You can also add these peas/beans to soupor on top of salad as “the meat”.
4. Make a sandwich using a layer of hummus topped with layers of spinach leaves, tomato and onion slices on whole grain bread with a glass of milk.
It is completely up to you whether you use a familiar food or branch out into unknown vegetarian foods. The point is to get more plant based foods on the menu. One meatless day a week may help tip the scales in the right direction and protect your body from disease. Time to get cooking!
Jennifer Giffune, R.D., L.D.N. is a freelance author, professional speaker and nutrition counselor. On the last Wednesday of each month, Jennifer can be heard on 89.5 WSKB radio on the “Wake up Wednesday Morning” Show. To make an appointment with Jennifer at Mercy Medical Group, call 786-1500.

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