At a time when more than a third of American adults are obese and childhood obesity rates are rising exponentially, more Americans are looking for meat alternatives in their dining choices.
In fact, nearly 16 million Americans are vegetarian and about a third say they’re choosing vegan or vegetarian meals more often, according to a Harris Interactive study commissioned by the Vegetarian Resource Group.
“Part of the reason this is going mainstream is that vegetarian diets are proven to be beneficial to one’s health,” says Brooke Alpert, a registered dietitian-nutritionist and founder of B Nutritious.
Vegetarians are at lower risk for developing heart disease, colorectal, ovarian and breast cancers, diabetes, obesity and hypertension, according to the American Dietetic Association.
“Even if you aren’t interested or ready to go vegan or vegetarian, seeking an alternative protein source for at least one meal a week can be beneficial,” says Alpert.
With that in mind, Alpert is offering tips for doing so without compromising protein intake or flavor:
• Take advantage of the fact that many restaurants and food businesses are responding to the trend by offering new menu items specifically balanced to meet the nutritional needs of those who are seeking better protein options.
• Make smart substitutions. It will be hard to commit to reducing meat from your diet if you don’t make substantive substitutions. Eating a salad? Opt for dark leafy greens, like kale and spinach. Top your salad with sources of plant-based protein like beans or tofu.
• Don’t skimp on flavor. Rather than relying on meat and cheese for taste, up the garlic, spices and herbs for a boost of zest. The added benefit is that these ingredients are low-calorie, provide numerous health benefits and are entirely vegan.