By CAREY SKELTON,
MS MPH RDN CDN
Consulting Registered Dietitian
October is Vegetarian Awareness Month, a national celebration of reducing meat intake and putting fruits and vegetables front and center of your plate!
There is much to be gained from eating a more plant-centric diet including health benefits, environmental sustainability, and delicious foods for experimenting.
Research shows us that those following a vegetarian diet are one-third less likely to die or be hospitalized for heart disease. A vegetarian diet has been linked to lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure levels. There is a significant reduction in risk of developing cancer and type 2 diabetes for vegetarians. This may be due to the fact that when you reduce animal proteins in your diet, you are reducing saturated fats. Additionally, plant-based proteins such as nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and soy are high in heart protective unsaturated fatty acids. By including more of these plant-based proteins, fruits, and vegetables the diet is higher in many anti-oxidant rich vitamins and higher in fiber. In fact, the average American only consumes about 12-15 grams of fiber each day even though it is recommended to consume 25-36 grams of fiber daily.
By shifting away from animal proteins in your diet, there is a positive impact on the environment. It takes less water to produce plants for food compared to meat for food production. There are less greenhouse gas emissions as well. Raising animals for food leads to soil erosion and pollution of our water sources. By reducing animal protein portion sizes, or participating in “Meatless Mondays,” and turning to small-scale local animal farms instead of the factory farms can make improvements in sustainability of our environment.
Many vegetarian foods such as mushrooms, soy, seaweed, and tomatoes are packed with umami flavor. Umami, pronounced oo-Ma-mi, is one of the 5 basic tastes. It is often translated as a “pleasant taste” and described as rich, brothy, savory, and meaty. The way you cook umami foods such as mushrooms can produce different tastes. For example, if you sear mushrooms you will elicit more intense smoky flavors and if you roast mushrooms you will find more sweet and umami flavors in the foods.
So take the veg challenge this October. Try to make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Incorporate Meatless Mondays this month. Have fun experimenting with recipes to capture those beloved umami flavors.
We know the healthy choice is not always the easiest choice, but small changes can make a big difference. Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services Dietitian, Carey Skelton RDN, is available for nutrition education through SNAP-ed programs. The SNAP-ed programs are free for those who receive or qualify for SNAP benefits. We want to help you save time, save money, and eat healthy!
Call NY Connects at 716-453-4582 for more details and information about any of these Nutrition and Wellness programs provided by Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services.