Cutting down on red meat can be beneficial to your health at any time of the year. Eating a lot of meat, especially processed meats such as deli and hotdogs, is associated with increased risk of chronic illnesses including stroke, multiple cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and preterm mortality. Plant-based meals, on the other hand, can decrease the amount of fat and cholesterol in one’s diet, while increasing the amount of fiber and other nutrients. There are recommendations to limit red meat intake to decrease one’s risk of developing cancer. And a more varied diet is always a good idea to assist with getting different nutrients in various foods.
What are some foods to add to your meal repertoire during the Nine Days?
Pulses are a category of legumes that, when harvested, contain very little moisture, and include dried peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas. They are super-filling and adaptable plant-based protein sources. You’ll barely miss meat once you start using pulses everywhere!
Another important distinction between pulses and other legumes is that pulses contain little to no oil.
It’s not difficult to meet protein requirements using plant sources if you’re using beans and legumes. They are filling because of their high protein and fiber content, are good sources of folate, iron and potassium, among other nutrients (varying among legumes), are helpful with managing and preventing chronic diseases, and are also very user- friendly. You could serve them as a bean salad, but you can also subtly incorporate them into loads of recipes.
Add puréed yellow split peas to a cheese sauce, and you’ve bumped up the protein, made it more filling, and barely affected the flavor or appearance. You can do the same for lasagna using puréed white beans in the cheese mixture, make pareve tacos using cooked green lentils, or burgers using mashed pinto beans. The current dietary guidelines recommend Americans eat 1.5–3 cups per week of legumes, and now is a great time to start!
Mushrooms are a great ingredient to include in your pareve dishes. They are “umami” — the fifth taste sense— and so provide depth of flavor and a meaty texture not usually experienced in vegetables. They are also a source of potassium, riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid. Add them into those pareve tacos or burgers mentioned above to make these vegetarian foods taste and feel more meaty.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Choose those whole grains for a filling side dish! While refined grains are fortified, they are lacking in nutritional quality. Whole grains provide greater health benefits and are associated with better nutrient intake and lower body weight in both adults and children. Whole grains provide fiber, minerals, vitamins B and E and healthy fats, plus they may be heart protective, prevent cancers and assist with diabetes control.
There are so many to choose from that if you don’t like one (say, for example, buckwheat, a.k.a. kasha), you can try another grain, such as millet. You can also experiment with “upgrading” the grains you currently eat. If you eat rice, try brown rice; if you have pasta, try whole-grain pasta. Grains make a good side dish, rather than the main portion of the meal, accompanied by protein and vegetables. One popular way to incorporate all three is by making a “grain bowl.” Simply place your grain of choice in a bowl, top with a mixture of raw and/or prepared vegetables and add a side of protein such as a boiled egg, fish, or pulses.
Tofu is another terrific plant-based protein to add to your repertoire. It’s full of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin K, niacin, folate, iron and magnesium. Though it has a controversial reputation, there is no high quality evidence that soy has any effect on male hormone levels, and it may be protective for some male and female cancers, as well as preventing coronary heart disease and lowering cholesterol levels. As such, it should definitely be a part of your Nine Days diet, as well as your regular diet.
Essentially a blank slate, tofu takes on the flavors it’s cooked with, so it can be added in just about anywhere. Crumble it up into a baked ziti, add it into a smoothie, bake up some crispy tofu nuggets (think chicken fingers but with tofu beneath the crust), crisp up and add to fried rice and veggies and combine with bean burgers mentioned above. You can even make delicious desserts using tofu!
Eating plant-based meals more often can be very beneficial to your health, and now is a great time to jumpstart that journey.
Bracha Kopstick is a registered dietitian in Toronto and owner of BeeKay Nutrition. She takes the “diet” out of dietitian, and wants you to take it out of your life! As a nutrition expert, Bracha promotes eating home-prepared foods more often and taking time to enjoy what you eat without any associated guilt. She is available for in-person and on-line counseling. Bracha can be reached at Bracha@beekaynutrition.com.