Katie Ferraro by Katie Ferraro
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October is Vegetarian Awareness Month. If you’ve been looking for a reason to incorporate more plant-based foods into your meal plans, there’s no time like the present. 

If you still need a little more convincing to make the shift toward a meat-free diet, check out the benefits below, as well as a few fall favorite vegetarian recipes to get you inspired in the kitchen. 

Health Benefits 

There’s no question that, when carefully planned, a plant-based diet does a body good. The only foods that contain fiber are plant foods, and a diet high in fiber helps promotes satiety and a healthy weight, lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer, and contributes to a healthy digestive system. 

When you choose plants over animal sources, you also lower your intake of fats. After all, saturated fats are found primarily in meat and full-fat dairy and may increase the risk of heart disease by elevating LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. 

Research also suggests that a primarily plant-based diet can help you maintain a healthy body weight. One British study, for example, found that over a five-year period, weight gain was lowest among men and women who reduced their consumption of animal foods compared to meat eaters. Researchers also found a significant difference in age-adjusted body mass index (BMI), as meat eaters had the highest BMI and vegans had the lowest. 

Cost Savings 

Most Americans are not deficient in protein; in fact, we tend to eat too much protein and often from animals sources that are high in both calories and saturated fat. In the U.S., approximately two-thirds of protein intake comes from animal sources. As a population, we would be better served to switch to plants, not just for health reasons, but because of the lower cost of a plant-based diet. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, if consumers follow recommendations to increase intake of plant-based proteins (like legumes, nuts and seeds), they will save money and, in turn, be able to afford leaner and healthier cuts of meat and seafood should they choose to still incorporate animal foods. 

Environmental Impact 

Although sustainability guidelines are unlikely to be included in the final version of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Advisory Committee included the following statement in their initial report: “Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact (greenhouse gas emissions and energy, land, and water use) than is the current average U.S. diet. 

Putting Plants to Work for You 

Talking about a plant-based diet is one thing, but putting those plants into practice is quite another. Here are three easy recipes for incorporating more meatless meals into your life. 

Super Secret Tofu Caesar Dressing 

Tofu is a soy-based protein food that serves as a flavor potentiator: it absorbs and augments the flavors you combine it with. Check out this super easy Caesar dressing recipe that will fool even the most die-hard tofu-hater. Sub vegan cheese if desired. 

Ingredients 
  • 1 cup tofu cubes (soft or silken works best)
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 ounces shredded or shaved Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
Instructions 
  • Combine the first 8 ingredients (tofu through garlic) in a food processor and process until smooth.
  • With motor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until fully incorporated and desired texture is achieved.
  • Serve atop Romaine lettuce with shredded cheese and whole-wheat croutons. 

Yield: Ten servings (2 tablespoons per serving) 

*Note: Regular Worcestershire sauce includes anchovies, so we suggest using a vegan version of this sauce such as Annie's Vegan Organic Worcestershire Sauce.

Better for You Black Bean Soup 

Some black bean soups end up tasting like canned black beans and not much else. But not this one. The Worcestershire, cilantro and ketchup give it a kick that will make this a go-to for your meatless meal planning. Rinsing the canned black beans wpsill reduce sodium by about one-third. 

Ingredients 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion (about 2 medium onions)
  • 5 garlic cloves, diced
  • 2 cups reduced-sodium vegetarian broth
  • 1 14 ½ ounce can no added sodium canned, chopped or diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 4 15 ½ ounce cans black beans, rinsed to reduce sodium
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • ¼ cup green onions or scallions, diced
  • Reduced fat sour cream and grated cheddar cheese for garnish 
Instructions 
  • Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until translucent, about five minutes.
  • Add broth, tomatoes, ketchup, Worcestershire, chili powder and beans. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.
  • Simmer for ten minutes and, if desired, pulse with immersion blender to refine the soup texture.
  • Ladle soup into bowls and top with cilantro, lime juice, scallions, sour cream and cheese, if desired. 

Yield: Eight servings (2 cups per serving) 

*Note: Regular Worcestershire sauce includes anchovies, so we suggest using a vegan version of this sauce such as Annie's Vegan Organic Worcestershire Sauce.

Rotini and White Beans with Kale 

Whole-wheat pasta makes a great whole-grain base for meatless meals. Try this healthier take on spaghetti by incorporating white beans and kale for fiber and vitamins A and K. You can substitute any dark green leafy vegetable such as collard greens or Swiss chart for the kale. 

Ingredients 
  • 12 oz whole-wheat rotini
  • 1 pound kale or other dark green leafy vegetable
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 15 ½ ounce can low-sodium white beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice 
Instructions 
  • Fill a large saucepan with water and place over high heat. When water boils, add rotini and cook for 9 to 11 minutes, or according to the instructions on the box.
  • Rinse greens thoroughly; cut ribs and stems from greens. Snip ribs and stems into 1 inch pieces and cut leaves into 2 inch pieces.
  • Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper; cook for 30 seconds. Add greens and beans. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until greens begin to wilt. Uncover and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
  • Drain pasta, reserving ¼ cup cooking water. Return pasta to saucepan and stir in greens and bean mixture with lemon juice. If mixture seems dry, add reserved cooking water. 

Yield: Five servings (1 ½ cups per serving)

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