Protein is essential for the healthy growth and repair of our bodies, but often when thinking of ways to increase it in our diets, we turn to steak, chicken and eggs.
Yet there are plenty of other ways to up our intake with plant-based food, rather than meat and dairy.
If, like me, you're trying to reduce the amount of meat you're eating, rest assured that plant-based proteins can meet our dietary needs, all while packing a nutrient-dense punch and helping the environment too.
When you eat a rainbow of fruit and vegetables, it aids in a great quality sleep. A steady supply of nutrients from plants means better-balanced nutrition generally, leading to fewer cravings. When you stop reaching for stimulants like sugar, caffeine and processed foods, you sleep more soundly and for longer.
Instead of making meat the hero of a meal, build your menu around salad and vegetables. Fill your bowl with greens like spinach and rocket, and add other vegetables such as grilled eggplant and courgette, or roasted root veges like kumara or pumpkin.
Stir-fried tofu makes a tasty addition to a vege dish and will leave you feeling fuller for longer. Long-term, increasing your intake of vegetables will have real health benefits – reducing your risk of stroke and heart disease.
Plants, particularly raw ones, are loaded with nutrients that are easy to digest, so your gut will love you for it. A healthy gut also means a well-functioning immune system, so you can ward off coughs and colds more easily.
Replacing even just a few meaty meals with plant alternatives can lead to improvements in health, such as lower cholesterol and blood pressure. It can also mean less fat around your middle, which is a good thing because larger waistlines are associated with a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease.
If you're keen to be more plant-based, try adding plain protein to dishes you are already familiar with. This could be replacing the beef in your bolognese with tofu, using more beans in your chilli con carne or loading your burritos with veges and chickpeas instead of meat.
The good news is that plant-based foods are often cheaper than meat options. A head of broccoli is always going to cost less than a steak, and at restaurants, vegetarian options are usually cheaper too. So do your wallet a favour and reach for veges and plant-based proteins next time you're at the supermarket.
Plant-based food is good any time of the day. For snacks, try vege sticks with hummus, steamed edamame beans, nuts and seeds, or even apple and peanut butter. Or why not have vegetables for breakfast? Starting your day with asparagus, tomato and avocado is hard to beat, or try a smoothie packed with spinach, kale and kiwifruit.
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