How To: Incorporating Heart-Healthy Vegetarian Options into Your Diet

If you’re looking for ways to reduce your cholesterol or make preventative, heart-healthy choices, increasing your produce and whole grain intake is a great first step. With so many options, it’s easy to add more heart-healthy vegetarian choices to your meal planning. This week, we explore the benefits of reducing your animal protein intake in favour of nutritional and delicious vegetarian options.

Incorporating more vegetarian options into your diet is a great preventative choice.

Diets that exclude meat or include very little are lower in saturated fats and lead to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, better overall digestive health, and a reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes; as a result, a vegetarian focused diet can reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.

You don’t have to give up meat-based protein to enjoy the preventative benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet – small steps for reducing your animal protein intake are enough to benefit your overall health.

How to build your best plate.

Incorporating healthy choices into your diet can feel overwhelming, but making heart-conscious choices is easier than it seems. Aim to ensure your meal portions include mostly produce (such as carrots, asparagus, strawberries, or pears) while also consuming high-fibre complex carbohydrates (including whole grain bread, quinoa, oats, and brown rice) and lean or plant-based protein (fish, chicken, tofu, and tempeh).

For example, a healthy breakfast might include quinoa, berries, and nuts, while a healthy dinner might contain roasted seasonal vegetables, tempeh, and a serving of farro. Remember to choose water over sugary beverages and ensure you favour healthy monosaturated or polyunsaturated fats such as olive or sunflower oils. Check out the heart and stroke foundation for tasty recipes that have your heart health at their centre.

Easy ways to incorporate more heart-healthy options.

There is increasing access to a diverse range of healthy foods and unique products that make it exciting to try new things. Making heart-healthy choices doesn’t mean giving up on your favourite foods, but it does mean substituting more fibre and vitamin-rich options.

  • Try finding simple, heart-healthy substitutes.

This can be as easy as switching to whole-grain pasta, olive oil, or sprouted-grain bread. Finding alternatives for things you already love can help you slowly integrate better options into your daily eating. If you’re creative, try switching animal protein for veggie-based alternatives like tempeh (a probiotic food that also benefits your gut microbiome).

  • Be curious!

Make healthy food interesting by experimenting with new foods and recipes. Curiosity goes a long way in discovering foods that you might find out you love! Keeping an open mind will help you make healthy choices that are more playful and exciting.

  • Change your portions

Changing the portion sizes of food we love can go a long way in lowering our risk for heart disease and stroke. Every day we need about two palm-size portions of protein, which can be plant or animal based. Increasing your daily intake of fruits and vegetables can significantly change your overall health –– on average, only 1 in 10 adults is getting enough per day.

Heart-centric sources of plant protein

While animal protein might feel easier to access, there is a ton of delicious and inexpensive plant-based protein to choose from. Try using one of these tasty options for your next meal!

  • Seitan

Also known as wheat gluten, this is a popular choice for many people who are looking to replace animal proteins because of its meat-like consistency and flexibility in dishes.

  • Lentils

Lentils are a vegetarian powerhouse! With a huge variety of types and endless ways to add them to your meals, lentils are a delicious, budget-friendly, and flexible protein option.

  • Beans

High in fibre and chock full of the amino acids and vitamins your body needs, beans are an incredible addition to any meal – family taco night, anyone?

  • Soy protein

Edamame beans, soy milk, tofu, and tempeh are all made from protein-rich soybeans. Experimenting with different ways to cook and enjoy soy is part of the reason this bean is so flexible as a vegetarian option.

  • Nuts

A handful of almonds for breakfast is a wonderful and delicious way to get extra protein. Try opting for raw and unsalted nuts for the best heart-healthy nutritional benefits.

A healthy heart is a happy heart!

This February, we encourage you to make heart-healthy changes to your daily routine. By starting small and experimenting with your food, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing heart disease or stroke. Happy snacking, Saskatchewan!