If your daily meal plan starts with a protein shake mixed with dairy milk and ends with a thick, juicy steak, you may want to rethink your dietary choices. Yes, protein is important as a macronutrient to keep you satiated and help you build extra muscle mass, but animal protein is not the only place to turn for protein—and besides, it’s adding quite a bit of saturated fat to your diet. “We get all the protein we need from plants,” says T. Colin Campbell, PhD, Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University and Founder and Board President of the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. In fact, switching to a whole food, plant-based diet not only reduces your risk for cancer but can also reverse conditions like diabetes and heart disease once symptoms have manifested themselves—that’s how quickly your body can adjust and positively react to eating plants, Dr. Campbell explains.
The formula Dr. Campbell proposes is eating all plant-based whole foods, and no animal products. You may be able to quit eating animal protein cold turkey (no pun intended) and have no trouble with that, or it may work better for you to eliminate animal products from your diet over a slightly longer period of time. If you’re making a gradual transition to plant-based eating, dairy and red meat should be on the chopping block first, Dr. Campbell says. As long as you have already been incorporating vegetables into your diet, the transition should be simple, digestion-wise; for people with digestive disorders, the transition may be different and may take more experimentation on an individual basis with which plant-based foods are best for smooth digestion, says Stacia Helfand, RDN. Either way, we encourage you to take these plant-based suggestions and customize your own meal plan based on your favorite veggies, fruits, legumes, and more. Here are some easy plant-based food swaps in order to make your meals plant-centered, which will not only fuel you immediately for your training, but protect you from disease in the long run.
Delicious Plant-Based Food Swaps You've Never Thought Of
1. Chia Pudding Instead of a Yogurt Parfait
Recipe from Claire Cary, CHN of Eat With Clarity
While it’s tempting to grab a fruit-and-yogurt parfait from your local bodega or an airport kiosk, it’s not a smart breakfast choice. “Yogurt parfaits can be loaded with sugar and processed ingredients and dairy is linked to inflammation,” Helfand says. Instead, try making your own chia pudding and prepping additional servings for the week. A serving of chia pudding has, on average, 9 grams of protein compared to 5 grams of protein in a yogurt parfait, adds Helfand. Plus, it’s much higher in fiber thanks to the chia seeds. You can customize the pudding with your choice of non-dairy milk (almond, oat, pea—the list goes on) and can even add anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric or ginger to the mix for an extra kick.
2. Tofu Omelet Instead of a Regular, Cheese-Filled Omelet with Bacon
Recipe from Chef Ashley Hankins-Marchetti of Eat Figs Not Pigs
Omelets don’t have to include eggs—a tofu omelet packs 22 grams of protein, even more than an egg omelet would, and it’s much better for your cholesterol. “The tofu omelet packs in phytonutrients (which can block excess estrogen in the body to help prevent hormonal imbalances), iron, calcium, and important nutrients like manganese, zinc and phosphorus,” Helfand says. “It’s not loaded with unhealthy fats and processed ingredients, and packs more protein and more diverse nutrients,” Helfand adds.
3. Veggie Sandwich on Whole Grain Bread Instead of a Turkey Sandwich
Recipe from Stephanie McKercher, MS, RDN of Grateful Grazer
We hate to break it to you, but deli meats are full of salt, preservatives, and fat. If you’re set on making a simple sandwich for lunch, make it a veggie sandwich on whole grain bread. Anchor it with hummus and a fiber-filled root vegetable like sweet potato on 100 percent whole grain bread. “The veggie sandwich is full of antioxidants, fiber and complex carbohydrates that promote healing and recovery, cellular repair and digestive benefits,” Helfand says. “Eating turkey sandwich has little to offer beyond the protein (which you can get from hummus and sweet potato in the veggie sandwich) and misses an opportunity to get in the good vitamins and minerals that come from the diverse vegetables,” she says.
4. Lentil Burger Instead of a Hamburger or Cheeseburger
Recipe from Anne Mauney MPH, RD of Fannetastic Food
“We know burgers are full of saturated fats, have no complex carbohydrates and make a big carbon footprint,” Helfand says. So why not try a lentil burger? It actually has more protein and also contains more fiber than a regular hamburger, as well as whole grains, if you add brown rice to it as in this recipe. Plus, it’s a significantly more sustainable choice and lowers your risk of foodborne illness as well,” Helfand adds, which is a win-win. Just make sure you enjoy it with a whole grain bun if you’re introducing bread into the equation.
5. Vegetarian Chili Instead of Beef Chili
Recipe from health coach Brittany Mullins of Eating Bird Food
Vegetarian chili doesn’t have the saturated fat that beef chili has—you can pack more beans and vegetables in it to replace the meat, which equals out to more fiber in the soup. “It also has resistant starch from the beans, which is good for prevention of diseases and a whole host of other reasons,” Helfand says. When you choose healthier carbs in the form of legumes, you’ll have more energy, too.
6. Whole Wheat Pasta with White Beans Instead of Spaghetti and Meatballs
Recipe from Rachael Hartley, RD, LD of Rachel Hartley Nutrition
When it comes to pasta, it’s important to go plant-based, first by choosing a whole grain wheat or legume-based pasta like lentil or chickpea pasta, but also important to go with plant-based sauces and ingredients. Eating regular spaghetti with meatballs makes for a meal full of refined grains and saturated fat, which will leave you feeling sluggish. The whole wheat pasta with white beans are significantly higher in fiber, vitamins, minerals and complex carbohydrates,” Helfand says. You can add spinach, asparagus, or your choice of veggies and chopped nuts to the dish to customize it.
7. Vegetarian Tofu Tacos Instead of Ground Beef Tacos
Recipe from Erin Clarke of Well Plated
You can still pack vegetarian tacos with just as much filling as a meat taco would have. “Swap a soy-based protein in the vegetarian tacos and you get all the flavor and texture without the saturated fat bomb,” Helfand says. “They are significantly higher in fiber and a great source of vitamins A and C,” she adds. Try making tacos with tofu crumbles, tempeh, or TVP—texturized vegetable protein, also made from soy protein. You can also add black beans for additional protein.