Happy October! It’s time to celebrate National Vegetarian Month and discuss the many benefits of a plant based diet. While there are many misconceptions about this dietary pattern, vegetarianism benefits one’s health and our environment. When planned properly, vegetarian meals and snacks supply adequate amounts of protein and heart healthy fats along with an abundance of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Additionally, plant based foods including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables contain phytochemicals; compounds that that have been found to have a large role in reducing the risk of cancer. During this month, enjoy the health benefits and great flavors by building your own plant-powered vegetarian bowl.
- Protein: One of the myths surrounding a vegetarian diet is that it lacks protein or doesn’t supply us with the proper amount we need. However, legumes including beans and lentils as well as whole grain quinoa provide plenty of protein. Additionally, bowls can be topped with other sources of protein including grilled tofu, a dollop of hummus, or, for lacto-ovo vegetarians, a hard-boiled egg or cheese.
- Healthy fats: Plant based fats provide rich flavor, protect our heart health, and allows our body to absorb certain vitamins including vitamin D. Dress your bowl with olive oil or a savory peanut sauce. Sliced avocado adds a touch of creaminess, Vegetarian sources of fat provide us with essential omega-3 fatty acids which are needed for brain and heart health; sprinkle in walnuts or chia seeds for a nutritious crunch.
- Carbohydrates: providing filling fiber and long lasting energy, brown rice, barley, quinoa, or whole wheat pasta balance the bowl with nourishing, whole grain goodness. If choosing to keep the bowl grain free, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, beans and other legumes are great alternatives.
- Vitamins and Minerals: richly colored fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals that help to maintain our bodies structures and functions as well as phytochemicals that confer additional health benefits such as increased immunity. Iron, similar to protein is a nutrient that is often thought of as lacking in a vegetarian diet. Aside from the iron found in legumes, quinoa, nuts and seeds, dark green leafy vegetable especially kale and spinach are good sources. Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron from these source so be sure to incorporate broccoli, tomatoes, bell peppers, or a squeeze of lemon or lime juice into the bowl.