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Eat Your Veggies

What if there were a simple way to drastically cut your saturated-fat intake, lower the odds of getting many chronic diseases, and help save the planet in the process? There is, and it's as easy as eating more vegetarian meals.

The health perks are undeniable. According to the American Dietetic Association, vegetarians have a lower incidence of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and several types of cancer. They also fare much better than meat eaters when it comes to obesity and cardiovascular disease. In fact, researchers have found a direct correlation between reducing meat consumption and a lower risk of obesity.

Reaping these benefits is simpler than you think. To start, forget about giving up meat cold turkey. Instead, take a flexitarian (also known as a part-time vegetarian) approach. Introduce a few meatless dinners a week and see how it goes. Keep it easy, too. If you like burritos, have a burrito. Just substitute black beans for the beef. When you feel like a burger, look in the produce aisle. A grilled portobello mushroom can be just as filling.

As for the concern that vegetarians come up short on protein, don't fret. An average adult woman needs about 65 grams of protein a day. But Americans tend to consume way more than they need (a skinless chicken breast alone contains 43 grams), and eating too much protein over a long period can stress your kidneys and lead to osteoporosis. To reach your target, you don't need meat-plenty of other foods rank high on the protein scale. Lentils, kidney beans, walnuts, eggs, and quinoa all make great sources. Even asparagus and broccoli contain protein.

As an added bonus, you'll help the planet as you boost your health. According to a 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report, meat and dairy production creates more carbon emissions than all those cars and trucks on the road. "The American diet is absolutely warming the planet," says Kate Geagan, R.D., author of the new book "Go Green, Get Lean." "It's the SUV of eating styles." The reason? Cows emit methane, which traps 21 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide does. And their solid waste gives off nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more powerful than CO2.

The facts say it all. Give up meat once, twice, or even four or more times a week, and you can make a big environmental impact. To help you out, we offer these four tasty vegetarian meals guaranteed to hit the spot.

Soba and Tofu in Ginger Broth
Both tofu and buckwheat soba noodles make this dish a protein powerhouse.

Whole-Wheat Greek Pizza
Vitamin-C- and beta-carotene-packed arugula perks up this whole-wheat pizza.

Spring Barley Risotto
One cup of the green peas found in this dish offers more protein than a large egg.

Stuffed Poblano Peppers in a Chipotle Sauce
Quinoa not only brings calcium to the table, but also provides a hefty dose of protein.

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