Written by Elizabeth Kaoh, M.A., CSUN Dietetic Intern
There are a plethora of health and cost benefits in switching up a few of your meals throughout the week to vegetarian dishes. Common misconceptions of vegetarian meals are that it limits you to the monotonous salad for lunch, or that going plant-based means you won’t get adequate protein. Vegetarian dishes can be hearty, delicious, and creative! Plant protein also packs a solid nutritious punch, packing in a number of essential vitamins and minerals as well as fiber and protein.
Vegetarian meals are sometimes thought of as costly, however a recent study published in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition compared a 2,000 calorie per day government-based meal plan to a vegetarian-based meal plan and found nearly $750 in savings a year from the plant-based meal plan. The plant-based meal plan also offered 25 more servings of vegetables, 14 more servings of whole grains, and 8 more servings of fruits per week.
One can still receive health benefits of going vegetarian for a few meals a week without committing to vegetarianism all the way. The Mediterranean eating method is associated with reducing the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes with a focus on mostly plant foods and fish, with red meat consumed sparingly. Consuming a number of plant-based sources of protein from beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, seeds, nuts, soy, and whole grains can also help one easily reach the adequate amount of protein needed in a meal.
Thinking of joining in on Meatless Mondays? Vegetarian meals, when appropriately planned, are nutritionally adequate and can extend benefits into the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
Studies have shown these benefits of switching to plant-based meals throughout your week:
- Vegetarians were found to have a nearly 25% less incidence of ischemic heart disease than non-vegetarians.
- Plant-based meals offer high amounts of fiber that can help reduce cholesterol levels and tend to have less saturated fat and cholesterol than meat dishes.
- Eating colorful fruits and vegetables can also offer rich sources of vitamin C, E, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants.
Plant-based meals incorporate high-fiber fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that can help keep blood sugars level. Vegetarian meals like legumes and whole grains are digested slowly and have a lower glycemic index, which can prevent rapid spikes in blood sugar helping to keep levels under control and make the body more responsive to insulin. Keep in mind that simple carbohydrates like white bread and white starches are vegetarian but can have adverse effects on blood sugar. Therefore, stick to the whole grain options when considering your grains.
Looking for a new vegetarian recipe? Try this quick and easy vegetarian chili full of whole grains and vegetables. It’s a quick fix for a chilly winter evening too!
Quick and Easy Vegetarian Chili
2 cloves Garlic, minced
14 oz. Canned tomatoes, chopped with liquid
14 oz. Canned kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 Red chili pepper, fresh, seeded and chopped
1 Tbsp. Olive oil
8 White button mushrooms, small
¼ tsp. Cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Serve with (optional)
¾ c. Brown rice, cooked
2 Tbsp. Shredded cheddar cheese
¼ c. Greek yogurt
- Heat oil in a medium size skillet.
- Saute garlic and chili until the aroma of the garlic is released.
- Add mushrooms and cumin and mix well.
- Cook for approximately 5 minutes.
- Stir in kidney beans, tomatoes, salt and pepper.
- Simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
- Serve with brown rice and top with cheddar cheese.
Dining on CSUN Campus
CSUN has a great array of vegetarian options for students and faculty. Freudian Sip dishes out a tasty hummus plate at many of their locations throughout campus. Shake Smart offers vegetarian smoothies and sandwiches. Find a salad bar at The Marketplace in Sierra Center along with a number of pre-packed vegetarian options at Arbor Grill and Matador Mercado. Locate your next vegetarian dish on campus on the CSUN Dining website.
Dinu, M., Abbate, R., Gensini, G. F., Casini, A., & Sofi, F. (2017). Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: a systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 57(17), 3640-3649.
Flynn, M. M., & Schiff, A. R. (2015). Economical Healthy Diets (2012): Including Lean Animal Protein Costs More Than Using Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 10(4), 467-482.