Let’s say you’re eating fish two nights a week. (Congratulations!) And perhaps you’re choosing lean cuts of meat to cook on three nights. What do you do on the other two? Try going vegetarian.
Now before visions of rabbit food or bulgur meatloaf swim through your head, rest assured: You can make a hearty and satisfying meal by using meat substitutes like the ones below. Besides adding diversity to your menus, they also bring cholesterol-lowering benefits all their own. Here are some ideas:
1. Soy. Okay, tofu may not top your list of favorite foods, maybe because you think it has no taste, or perhaps you don’t like the texture. We can solve both problems. If you think you don’t like tofu, it’s worth giving it another try — it’s an excellent meat substitute, and it will even help lower your cholesterol on its own if you eat enough of it. A word to the wise: Don’t buy tofu sold loose in open containers, as it may be contaminated with bacteria. Instead, buy packaged tofu in the refrigerated section of your grocery store. Here are some tasty ways to try soy:
Add firm tofu to stir-fries. The tofu will soak up the flavors you cook with and taste delicious.
Stir soy crumbles (found in the frozen food section) into spaghetti sauce or vegetable stews. They’ll provide some meat-like texture without altering the taste.
Try steamed edamame, the actual soybean, sprinkled with a bit of salt. Or look for roasted soy nuts, which make a fun, healthy snack and provide the perfect crunch to salads.
Add tofu and some fresh spinach to chicken broth and a bit of miso (fermented soybean paste, available in the Asian foods section of the grocery store) for a quick, light soup.
Try a soy burger. Some really do taste like meat.
2. Beans. Loaded with soluble fiber, beans are a powerful way to cut your cholesterol. How powerful? When one researcher had 20 men with high cholesterol eat about 1 1/2 cups of pinto and navy beans a day, their total cholesterol dropped an average of 56 points, and their LDL an average of 51 points. There are countless ways to make beans part of your meals. For lunch, try black bean or lentil soup, or toss garbanzo beans over a hefty salad. For dinner, make vegetarian chili or add a can of rinsed white beans to pasta dishes.
3. Eggplant. Few other vegetables can fool the palate and eye as well as eggplant. This fibrous purple vegetable soaks up flavoring like a sponge. (Unfortunately, it also soaks up oil the same way, so avoid frying it.) And eggplant is very filling, with virtually no fat. Try making eggplant Parmesan by baking slices of bread crumb-encrusted eggplant (instead of frying them) and covering with skim mozzarella cheese; using eggplant in place of meat in lasagna; and sautéing eggplant with tomatoes, onions, squash, and garlic and serving over brown rice for a delicious ratatouille.
4. Portobello mushrooms. These have a surprisingly meaty texture that is good enough to substitute for burgers on buns or beef in wraps. Grill them with a brushing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and use them anyway you like. Several studies have found that mushrooms, high in fiber and plant sterols, can help lower cholesterol.