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Becoming Vegetarian


QUESTION:

I'm trying to cut back on eating meat.  Do you have any suggestions for replacing some or all of the meat in my diet?

ANSWER:

If I were answering this question fifteen or twenty years ago, my answer would have been much different.  I would have focused my answer on using texturized vegetable protein (TVP) to substitute meat and combining incomplete proteins to provide complete proteins (such as mixing beans and rice).  Modern research has subsequently recognized that such an approach is not necessary.  Today, cutting back on meat is easier than ever!

There are numerous meat substitutes on the market and as the benefits of this type of diet are further acknowledged, the increased demand is resulting in more competition and more products on the shelves everyday.  You name it - hotdogs, lunchmeat, turkey and chicken cutlets, chicken tenders, sausage links, buffalo wings, ground beef crumbles, meatloaf, breakfast patties, and shredded barbeque beef meat substitutes are abundant.  They are typically made from wheat gluten and soy protein; however, some are made with grains, vegetables and legumes such as lentils.  All are healthy alternatives to higher fat animal products.  In addition to the health food stores popping up everywhere, even regular grocery stores and superstore chains such as Wal-Mart and Costco now carry a variety of these meatless options.  And these aren't substitutes that reminisce of eating cardboard either.  They are as tasty and as similar to the animal product as they have ever been! I have my favorites and, in my opinion, some are better than others.  However, experimenting with various brands and products will allow you to see which ones your taste buds prefer.

Of course, don't forget the obvious solution of simply cutting back on the size of meat portions or completely replacing meat with increased servings of vegetables or legumes at some meals.  We now know that our protein needs can typically be met through the consumption of a varied diet of vegetables, beans and legumes, whole grains and cereals, nuts and seeds, and dairy products or diary-like products, such as soymilk.

There are many excellent vegetarian cookbooks and recipes online.  Almost any recipe can be adjusted to make it meatless.  For instance, the meat in most Mexican food can be replaced with beans, rice, cheese, or vegetarian beef crumbles.  Try some products that may be new to you, such as marinated tofu or hummus spread, which is a chick pea paste - excellent spread for sandwiches.  Experiment with a variety of meatless meals until you find a few that you really like and will be able to easily integrate into your weekly menu.  Once your comfort level increases, planning meatless meals becomes second nature.  Enjoy your new taste bud experiences!

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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.
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