The latest foodie fad just might be the ideal diet. It's healthy, cheap and yummy -- and you don't have to give up a thing. Read on for seven reasons to eat like a part-time vegetarian, plus easy ideas to make the switch.
It's the Best of Both Worlds
Either you eat meat or you don't, right? Well, no. Just ask New York Times columnist and chef Mark Bittman, who swears by eating vegan before dinner, or the many Americans who celebrate Meatless Monday. The key to being a part-time vegetarian is fitting in more produce at every meal and thinking of meat as an accompaniment, not the main event, when you eat it. "Turn one or two servings of protein into a meal for your family when you make a stir-fry, pasta or stew," says Sharon Palmer, RD, the author of Plant-Powered for Life.
It's Better for the Planet
"The industrial production of animals for meat comes with terrible by-products: greenhouse gas emissions, land degradation, and polluted water supplies," Bittman says. University of Chicago researchers calculated that if Americans reduced their meat consumption by just 20 percent, it would be as if the entire country switched from a standard sedan to a fuel-efficient Prius. Even eating one less burger a week is like taking your car off the road for 320 miles.
Veggies Don't Have to Taste Blah
Boiled-to-death Brussels sprouts? No, thanks. Three ways to cook veggies right:
On the stove top: Heat is your friend. "Err on the side of getting the pan almost too hot, so when you add the vegetables, you hear a loud sizzle," suggests Mollie Katzen, the author of The Heart of the Plate. "That's the sound of flavor being imparted." Don't crowd the pan or you risk steaming the veggies; contact with the hot surface should be maximized.
In the oven: Roasting bite-size pieces at 400 degrees until tender brings out sweetness. Not just a dinner side dish, roasted vegetables are wonderful when added to baked potatoes and pasta, or even plain as snacks, Katzen says.
On the grill: Marinate mushrooms, onions, and peppers in olive oil, lemon, and herbs, then grill on skewers.
You Can Use Produce Before It Perishes -- Really
Don't let asparagus die a slow, droopy death. Set your fridge temperature to 35 degrees to 38 degrees, and know which vegetables belong in the crisper (cauliflower, radishes, carrots, and beets) and which should live on the counter (avocados until ripe, tomatoes, and garlic). "Check your produce daily and use the most perishable items -- tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini and cucumbers -- first," Palmer suggests. Store veggies unwashed in original packaging in the fridge until you're ready to prep them; if they start to go limp, wash greens and roll them in a towel and submerge crunchy produce (carrots and celery) in water. If you have more produce than you can eat fresh, stock your freezer with soup or smoothie fixings (peel avocado and cucumber, chop roughly and freeze on a cookie sheet before transferring to a ziplock bag).
A Little Prep Goes a Long Way
Devote an hour on the weekend to washing and cutting several vegetables. Keep diced onions, chopped peppers, trimmed asparagus and clean lettuce in baggies at eye level in the fridge. Although chopping in advance causes some nutrient loss, precut carrots trump processed foods by a long shot, says Lisa Young, PhD, RD, a FITNESS advisory board member and an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University. Or take a supermarket shortcut; grocery stores offer everything from diced butternut squash to prewashed greens. Blanching can be a busy gal's best friend; simply place any veggie in simmering water for two to five minutes, cool in ice water, drain thoroughly and store partially cooked in the fridge or freezer. "Blanched vegetables have double the shelf life and take up half as much space," Katzen says. Saute in olive oil with garlic, salt and pepper to serve.
Veggies Won't Break the Bank
"Making vegetarian meals at home costs less than making meat-based ones or dining out," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, a FITNESS advisory board member and the author of The Flexitarian Diet. A USDA study found that about a third of fresh veggies -- including carrots, cabbage, and cauliflower -- are less than 50 cents per one-cup serving. Cut costs by planning your meal around what's in season; check out the cheat sheet at eatwellguide.org/seasonal. Frozen and canned vegetables, which are often picked at their peak, count too.
You'll Live Longer
"Vegetables are the best way to prevent heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and certain cancers," Young says. Plus, new research reveals some lesser-known perks, such as complexion perfection (vitamin C protects against wrinkles) and a sunny disposition (higher veggie intake has been linked to optimism and happiness).
Find Your New Fave
Find Your New Fave
If you like: Artichokes
Stir-fry with shallots, carrots, and cashews.
If you like: Cucumber
Peel and grate into coleslaw.
If you like: Water chestnuts
Peel, slice, and eat raw sprinkled with lime juice and chili powder.
If you like: Broccoli
Roast bulb with turnips and carrots.
If you like: Spinach
Try: Swiss chard
Saute with olive oil until wilted.
If you like: Butternut squash
Try: Spaghetti squash
Pierce and microwave on high for 12 minutes. Halve, remove seeds, and scrape squash with a fork to form strands. Top with tomato sauce.
If you like: Cabbage
Try: Brussels sprouts
Shave into a salad with apples and almonds.