Of course, “vegetarian” doesn’t always mean heart-healthy. “Because vegetarian diets are defined, basically, as just eliminating meat, the word ‘vegetarian’ labels a huge diversity of eating styles,” says Winston Craig, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, and the lead author of the American Dietetic Association’s position paper on vegetarian diets. Case in point: A diet consisting of tons of white bread and loads of cheese is “vegetarian.”
Using EatingWell’s formula for healthy vegetarian meals (lots of veggies and whole grains, little high-fat dairy and moderate amounts of healthy fats, like oils and nuts), we started making simple changes to the rest of our diet. We limited cheeses and ice cream. I spread peanut butter, instead of regular butter, on toast. Many experts believe that a high intake of nuts, which contain cholesterol-lowering unsaturated fats, contribute to vegetarians’ superior heart health. (Studies have shown that people who eat nuts more than four times a week suffer half as many heart attacks as people who eat nuts less than once a week.)
The minor dietary shifts felt so effortless that I began to believe this new way of eating could stick. A successful vegetarian dinner with guests underscored that notion: I served Tomato & Spinach Dinner Strata and no one noticed the lack of meat. My dad, a hardcore carnivore, went back for seconds.