-- intro: More and more of my clients consider themselves to be “part-time” vegetarians. While they may not want to give up meat altogether, they enjoy plenty of meatless meals or take part in ongoing movements, like Meatless Mondays. Today is another formal campaign focused on leaving meat off your plate: It’s the Great American Meat-Out, and getting on board can be a great opportunity to improve your health.
Here are five healthy veg-based habits you can adopt, even if you aren’t interested in embracing a total vegetarian lifestyle.
quicklist: 1category: title: Make veggies the main attractionurl:text:
When I ask most of my omnivore clients what they had for dinner last night, they typically reply with meat first (e.g. “I had chicken with…”). Veggies are often an afterthought. Obviously my vegetarian and vegan clients don’t eat meat, but I advise everyone—including omnivores—to think about veggies first and build the rest of their meals around them. It’s key, because eating more veggies is one of the most impactful dietary changes you can make, but about 75% of adults fall short of the minimum recommended three daily servings.
quicklist: 2category: title: Choose plant-based fats over animal fatsurl:text:
quicklist: 3category: title: Make “pulses” your proteinurl:text:
Pea protein powder, also a pulse, is also becoming a hot plant-based protein. I love to whip it into smoothies, and use it as a protein-booster in oatmeal. In addition to providing protein, pulses are rich in filling, blood-sugar regulating fiber, as well as resistant starch, a unique kind of carb that’s been shown to naturally up your body’s fat-burning furnace. Pulses also pack antioxidant levels that rival berries, and they’re satisfying without making you feel sluggish. This Friday or any day, trade the meat in a meal for a serving of pulse, like cannellini beans, lentils, or oven-roasted chickpeas—they’ll fill you up while helping you slim down and stay healthy.
quicklist: 4category: title: Snack on plantsurl:text:
While there are “junk food vegetarians,” many veg-heads make whole, plant-based foods their focus, including at snack time. Great options anyone can reach for include raw veggies with hummus or guacamole, fresh fruit with nuts, seeds or nut/seed butter, or a smoothie made with a plant-based “milk” (like almond or coconut) with fruit, leafy greens, and a plant-derived protein powder, such as pea or hemp. Even choosing dark chocolate over milk chocolate ups your plant-based game and boosts your antioxidant intake!
quicklist: 5category: title: Build plants into dessertsurl:text:
I love baking (check out this video for my 5 healthy baking swaps) and one of my favorite challenges is to find delicious ways to sneak more plants into my splurges. I’ve added puréed spinach to vegan brownies, and in Slim Down Now I incorporate pulses into several goodies, including whipping white beans into chocolate pudding, and using garbanzo bean flour to make pumpkin spice mini muffins. Nutritionists and chefs are incorporating produce into desserts in lots of interesting ways, from tomato sorbet and chocolate eggplant cake to mushroom meringue.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.
This article originally appeared on Health.com.