Healthy Eating for Vegetarians
Whether you have been eating vegetarian for your entire life due to religious beliefs or have decided to become vegetarian, I applaud you. Though I am not a vegetarian myself, I have plenty of friends who are. Being a vegetarian has numerous health benefits, but no one said it was an easy task when trying to eat healthy in terms of variety. After speaking with my friends, the main problem that faces them when eating clean and vegetarian is finding an adequate source of protein. Because of the limited options protein-wise, it can be easy to get stuck in a carb and sugar loaded diet. The fact is, though it may be harder to find good sources of protein that are meat-free, it is totally possible to adjust clean eating to this lifestyle, it just requires a bit more thought on your part. So, I have created this article to help you find meal ideas that are healthy, vegetarian, and delicious. The most important thing is to be creative, experiment with different sources of protein in different forms and you will never be bored! First, let's take a look at some common vegetarian sources of protein.
Legumes- this means, pinto beans, kidney beans, lentils, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), black beans, basically all beans. Legumes are a great source of protein, in fact, most of my favorite meals include legumes as the main source of protein. They are affordable, easy to cook, and completely vegetarian. Experiment with different kinds of beans, don't just stick to the basics. Try different recipes that include beans in many different forms as well. Nowadays, you can find a variety of products that are made from beans and are super healthy. A 1/2 cup of black beans has 7.24 grams of protein. I am absolutely obsessed with Banza's chickpea mac and cheese. I can tell you that this is better than any mac and cheese I have had in my life, including the carb loaded ones. I swear I cannot tell the difference! A cup of vegetarian bean chili is warm, comforting, and brimming with protein to keep you full all day.
Nuts- nuts like cashews, almonds, peanuts, and my personal favorite, pistachios are great for vegetarian diets. A handful of nuts is the perfect snack for vegetarians, not only do they contain protein, but they are also great on fruit in the form of nut butter. However, portion control is incredibly important when it comes to eating any kind of nut. Nuts are high calorie and some are worse than others. Stay clear of nuts like pecans, walnuts, and macadamia nuts, as they are extremely high in calorie and can lead to weight gain. If you are eating nuts like almonds, cashews, peanuts, or pistachios, make sure to control your portion size, if not you can end up eating too much and gaining weight. A quarter-cup is best when eating these types of nuts, this would equal about 3.5 grams of protein. As far as nut butter goes, stick to the two tablespoon limit. One of my favorite snacks is a cup of raspberries with a tablespoon of peanut butter, it tastes like a guilt free peanut butter and jelly!
Paneer and other cheese- Paneer is a type of Indian cheese that is filling, healthy, and most importantly delicious. The texture is almost like a firm ricotta cheese, with a mild flavor. I love eating paneer in different types of curries, and using it as a substitute for meat in some cases. While you can't use cheeses like cheddar, gouda, and swiss cheese, they can be eaten for snack and added to different meals for a protein boost. However, just like nuts, cheese should be eaten in moderation. Eating too much can lead to weight gain. I like to use cheese to balance out certain meals, for example, tomato bisque with a sprinkle of parmesan adds some texture, flavor and substance to soup. One of my new obsessions is a spaghetti squash casserole, which you substitute squash for pasta. Not only will you be eating a beautifying vegetable, but it also has tons of protein in the melted cheese. A half cup of shredded cheddar cheese has 10 grams of protein.
Chia seeds- One of my personal favorites, chia seeds have a ton of protein and make for a sinfully delicious breakfast. Have you heard of chia seed pudding? I eat this for breakfast on the weekends when I am looking for something sweet and healthy. You can find tons of chia seed recipes on the internet. For vegetarians, chia seeds are a holy grail because of their protein levels and filling quality, as they expand in your stomach. I love chocolate chia seed pudding using unsweetened coco powder and almond milk. Even better, add greek yogurt to your chia seed pudding and create a incredibly delicious breakfast or snack.
Healthy grains- I am a sucker for anything that has quinoa in it. I love the texture, the flavor, and of course, the added health benefits. Though grains may have higher levels than carbohydrates, they make amazing vegetarian meals, and are clean eating approved. Farro, bulgur, spelt, and amaranth are just some of awesome grains that everyone should include in their diet, vegetarian or not. Try quinoa with marinara sauce and a sprinkle of cheese, as a healthy substitute for pasta. Try brown rice risotto (amazing). Try them all with a vinegrette and some shaved parmesan. Create a super food salad by using these grains, an apple, feta cheese, some sliced almonds, and a date for some sweetness.
Greek yogurt and Icelandic Skyr - I start my day with a cup of greek yogurt and a handful of berries, and I feel amazing the whole day. This is because greek yogurt has so much protein and berries have healthy carbohydrates. A cup of greek yogurt has 18 grams of protein! If you find the taste a bit to tart, add some manuka honey, or mash the berries or another fruit and mix them into the yogurt. You can even use greek yogurt in savory dishes, add it to soup or chili as a sub for sour cream. One of my favorite yogurt brands is Icelandic Provisions, which creates creamy and yummy Skyr yogurt. They have so many delicious flavors and are low in sugar, but still taste like a treat, I love the key lime flavor!
Once you get the protein part of a vegetarian diet down, everything else is much more simple. Avoid the white carbs, avoid sugar, and avoid over snacking, eat tons of fruit and vegetables and you are on your way to a clean eating vegetarian lifestyle that makes you feel strong, healthy, and happy.