Meatless meals are not just for vegetarians. Canada’s Food Guide encourages all of us to have meat alternatives often including beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds. However, many Canadians are not sure how to incorporate these into their diet.
Benefits of meat alternatives
Eating meat alternatives more often can decrease the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Additionally, each type of meat alternative provides a unique set of nutrients. Beans and lentils are sources of folate and fibre. Research suggests that consuming them regularly can lower risk of cardiovascular disease, improve blood sugar control and promote healthy gut bacteria. [1, 2, 3] Calcium-set tofu contains calcium, iron and isoflavones, which may contribute to health. Nuts and seeds contain unsaturated fats that are important for heart health.
Eat like you live in the Mediterranean
Further encouragement to adopt meat alternatives into your diet comes from the Mediterranean diet, which is a pattern of eating that emphasizes vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, whole grains, fish and healthy fats. A recent meta-analysis found that adherence to a Mediterranean diet reduced
- overall mortality
- mortality from cardiovascular disease
- incidence of mortality from cancer
- incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease 
Dealing with discomfort
Many people cite getting gas as a reason to avoid consuming legumes like beans and lentils. Try these strategies to minimize gas and discomfort.
- Add legumes to your diet gradually and eat them regularly.
- To deal with the added fibre, drink plenty of water and stay active.
- After soaking beans in water to soften them, drain and use fresh water for cooking.
- Use “Beano” supplemental enzymes to help break down the carbohydrates.
Meatless meal and snack ideas
Beans and lentils
- Add beans or lentils to soups, stews, casseroles and pasta sauce. Add them whole or blend them first with water for a smoother texture.
- Blend beans (chickpeas, red kidney beans, black beans, etc.), garlic, lemon juice and olive oil into a spread. You can also make hummus.
- Make bean salads using a variety of beans and vegetables.
- Have vegetarian tacos or burritos with beans, lettuce, tomato and avocado.
- Make vegetarian chilli by using beans instead of meat.
- Add lentils to brown rice.
- Use chickpeas or lentils in a curry.
- Have baked beans as part of your meal or on top of baked potatoes.
- Try vegetarian burgers using lentil patties.
- Use tofu in chilli, tacos or spaghetti sauce instead of ground meat.
- Add cubed tofu to stir-fries.
- Marinate soybeans in vinegar, olive oil and herbs, then serve on crackers.
- Add edamame beans to salads, soups or stir fries. You can also eat them from the pod as a snack.
Nuts and seeds
- Top salads, cereal or yogurt with nuts and/or seeds. Toast them in the oven to bring out their flavour.
- Make trail mix using whole grain cereal and a mixture of nuts and seeds.
- Try different nut and seed butters (peanut, almond, cashew nut, sunflower seed) on toast, celery, apple or banana.
- Spread tahini (ground sesame seeds) on crackers or use it as vegetable dip.
- Pulse Canada. The health benefits of pulses: clinical trial findings. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2004 [cited 2010 14 Dec].
- Anderson JW, Major AW. Pulses and lipaemia, short- and long-term effect: potential in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Brit J Nutr. 2002;88(3):S263-S271.
- Sievenpiper JL, Kendall CWC, Esfahani A, Wong JMW, Carleton AJ, Jiang HY, et al. Effect of non-oil-seed pulses on glycaemic control: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled experimental trials in people with and without diabetes. Diabetologia. 2009;52:1479–1495.
- Sofi F, Cesari F, Abbate R, Gensini GF, Casini A. Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis. Brit Med J. 2008;337:a1344.
Article posted on May 24, 2011