Just knowing that a vegetarian diet is associated with living longer doesn't make it any easier to resist that sizzling steak. But new research is giving meat-eaters a sigh of relief. Simply having a pro-vegetarian food pattern has been associated with reduced mortality, even if eaters aren't strictly vegetarian, according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
People who follow a pro-vegetarian food pattern emphasize veggies over meat or other animal products but aren't necessarily total herbivores. The study authors recognized that conforming to a true vegetarian diet could be difficult, noting that most cultures don't have a high percentage of purely non-meat eaters.
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They surveyed the eating habits of older adults at high risk for cardiovascular disease  and monitored mortality rates. Heart disease risk factors included smoking, hypertension, being overweight, type 2 diabetes, and a family history of heart disease. In a five-year follow up, they found that even a low or moderate application of a pro-vegetarian diet had a 30 percent reduction in risk of death (from any cause) compared to those who ate the fewest vegetables and most animal products. (Check out these 9 appalling reasons to eat less meat. )
The study authors say that an exclusive, plant-only diet isn't necessary to see benefits and that most people took a more moderate approach. "This modest change is realistic, affordable, and achievable because it represents the observed food pattern in a sizable proportion of our cohort," the study authors reported.
Need more benefits of going veggie? The researchers also found that those who scored high for eating veggies and low for eating meat and other animal products enjoyed significantly lower rates of diabetes and lower BMIs. They also ate diets more rich in like vitamin C, folate, and dietary fiber.
Martha Rose Shulman, author of The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking , understands that going vegetarian (or even just giving up meat every once and a while) can seem daunting. So she recommends mastering a simple dish and then experimenting with veggie add-ins. "I realized after decades of creating, adapting, and writing recipes that I always use the same formulas—essential ingredients plus method—for certain types of dishes," she explains. In this way, cooking meatless is easy without being boring.
Try her template for Arborio Risotto.
7 cups well-seasoned simple vegetable stock , garlic stock, or porcini mushroom stock
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ cup minced onion
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1½ cups Arborio rice
1 to 2 garlic cloves (to taste), minced
½ cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc
¼ to ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan (1 to 2 ounces)
1. Bring the stock to a simmer over low heat in a saucepan, with a ladle nearby or in the pot. Make sure the stock is well seasoned.
2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a wide, heavy skillet or a wide, heavy saucepan. Add the onion and a generous pinch of salt and cook gently until it is just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Do not brown.
3. Add the rice and garlic and stir until the grains separate and begin to crackle. Add the wine. It should bubble right away, but it shouldn’t evaporate too quickly. Stir until it is no longer visible in the pan.
4. Begin adding the simmering stock, a couple of ladlefuls (about 1⁄2 cup) at a time. The stock should just cover the rice, and should be bubbling, not too slowly but not too quickly. Cook, stirring often, until it is just about absorbed. Add another ladleful or two of the stock and continue to cook in this fashion, adding more stock and stirring when the rice is almost dry. You do not have to stir constantly, but stir often and when you do, stir vigorously, because it’s the stirring that coaxes the starch out of the rice, and the starch is what makes risotto creamy. When the rice is no longer hard in the middle but is still chewy (al dente), usually in 20 to 25 minutes, it is done. Taste now and adjust seasoning.
5. Add another ladleful of stock to the rice. Stir in the Parmesan and pepper to taste and remove from the heat. The mixture should be creamy (add more stock if it isn't). Serve right away in wide soup bowls or on plates, spreading the risotto in a thin layer rather than a mound.
This recipe works with any of your favorite herbs, spices, or favorite veggie add-ins.
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