What are the health benefits to replacing one meal a week with a vegetarian option?

Your question is a good one! There are many health benefits associated with following a vegetarian diet. Many of my patients tell me that the thought of completely changing their diet is overwhelming so I suggest that they start slow and make one dinner a week “vegetarian”. For example: a typical dinner of a bacon cheeseburger could be transformed into a hearty and healthy vegetarian black bean burger topped with veggies and spicy mustard. This switch will help save you hundreds of calories and grams of fat, which is very healthy for your heart. Not only can vegetarian meals help reduce heart disease, they can also be a great way to help reduce risk of cancer. Now let’s look at breakfast. A typical breakfast could consist of bacon, eggs, sausage and toast. Consuming high amounts of processed meats may increase your risk of cancer so instead have whole grain oatmeal! Mix in soy milk, blueberries and drizzle some honey on top for a cancer fighting meal! Following a vegetarian diet can also help reduce incidence of stroke, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and dementia!

If you are interested in moving your family more towards a plant based diet, begin by talking to your family about the health benefits of fruits and vegetables. Get the entire family involved when it comes to planning a menu and then research recipes together. If you have kids get them involved in the kitchen by letting them help with the meal prep. Enjoy a variety of vegetarian dishes like butternut squash soup, quinoa with green peppers and tomatoes, eggplant lasagna, grilled vegetable sandwich on focaccia and hummus, brown rice and a variety of steamed and colorful vegetables.

As a dietitian, I do need to remind people that do not eat meat to remember to consume the vitamins and minerals generally found in meat (protein, niacin, zinc, iron, vitamin B6 and B12). Just because you follow a vegetarian diet doesn’t mean that it is necessarily balanced so I remind people to plan ahead and choose from a variety of nutrient dense foods. I would advise the vegetarians to make sure they are getting plenty of protein (soy products, beans, whole grains, nuts/seeds) and making sure they are getting adequate amounts of fluid also.

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