Sunday, June 17, 2007

Easy ways to go veggie “part time”

If being a vegetarian full time isn’t for you, you’ll still help the planet (and yourself) a lot if you do some minor “veggie” tweaks here and there, not too much. You don’t even have to actually replace a complete meat-based meal with a veggie one, ever, unless you want to. How’s that for easy? Just figure out, roughly, how much meat your family eats in a week, then start slow. Cut back your meat intake the first week by about 10%. (BTW, your digestive system will thank you, too, if you go slowly, as will those around you. :-) As healthy as a vegetarian diet can be, you’ll have some trouble adjusting to it if you go too fast and you’re not used to all of that fiber and bean sugar, which can cause major gas and bloating.) Do it without changing the flavor of your meals by replacing part of the hamburger in your meatloaf or burger patties with mashed kidney beans, textured vegetable protein, or lentils. Or serve a tasty stir-fry made with your family’s favorite veggies over rice, and cut the chicken or beef in it by 10%. If you want to “replace” the meat protein in it that you cut back on, toss in a few chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans).

About once a month, cut back another 10%, until you’ve reached the level you want, but 30% is a good reduction to shoot for if you can. It won’t impact the flavor of your meals markedly, and you’ll still feel like you’re eating plenty of meat. You’ll also be getting plenty of fiber effortlessly, so no need to worry that you’re getting what you need. Even better, the soluble fiber in the veggie-based protein can help cut your cholesterol if this is something you need to pay attention to, since soluble fiber absorbs excess cholesterol and removes it from your body. And you’ll feel full on less food and fewer calories, so this is also an easy way to lose some pounds if you need to.

A note about textured vegetable protein, also known as TVP. It’s not something I use a lot, since grocery stores here don’t generally carry it. But if you’re interested in trying it, it can replace meat in soups, stews and stirfries effortlessly. Its texture so mimics hamburger that even die-hard meat eaters won’t know they’re eating it in ground beef-based dishes if you cut the hamburger with it by whatever percentage you’re reducing your meat intake. It’s available in any health food store, and some larger grocery stores also carry it, depending on demand.

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