If you follow my Instagram page @cook2lean you may have noticed that I cook a lot of meat – chicken, beef, fish, lamb, eggs – pretty much all the animal-based protein I can find at my local Aldi store. It’s funny, because if I look at the accounts I follow on Instagram I am pretty sure at least 50% if not 75% of the food accounts I follow are either vegetarian or vegan accounts. I am also 100% sure that none of these accounts follow me back because of how much meat I publicly consume lol.
Anyway, although I don’t practice vegetarianism or veganism, I love seeing the different vegetarian and vegan recipes on my feed because they’re always so colorful and beautifully plated. But I never really thought of incorporating fully vegan or vegetarian meals into my daily routine until I recently went to the doctor for an annual physical.
To be honest, I thought that I was super spot on with my nutrition this past year and a half or so because all of my meals always contain at least one to two servings of vegetables. But apparently I was wrong! When I went for a check up my doctor questioned whether I took in enough fiber based on a few symptoms I described involving my digestion. She recommended that I start taking a fiber supplement to get in more fiber and reduce the issues I had been experiencing. At first I was a bit skeptical and confused – how was I NOT getting enough fiber when I am constantly making such a conscious effort to eat all these damn vegetables all the time? But as it turns out, not all vegetables are created equal in terms of fiber – when I calculated my daily average dietary fiber intake it only ended up being around 15 grams which is only about half of what is recommended for a healthy diet. And dammit, I want to be healthy! And so I started my quest to increase my fiber intake.
Being the type of person who takes a lot of pride in my health and nutrition, I wanted to avoid the need to take a fiber supplement to meet dietary needs when I could simply adjust my diet to account for more fiber. And thus, the idea to replace my meat-based lunches with plant-based lunches to increase my fiber intake was born (out of an aversion to taking pills). I found out that if I replaced 4oz of animal based protein with ½ cup of beans I’d be adding approximately an extra 7g of fiber to my daily intake. And if I added an extra serving of vegetables to my lunches and dinners I could another extra 2g of fiber, bringing me closer to the 25g my doctor was recommending. It was also really important to me that whatever I did choose to make for my plant-based lunches was still relatively high in protein to supplement my physique goals, so I decided that lentils would be a good option.
I found a recipe for Coconut Curried Lentils on Minimalist Baker’s website and they looked amazing – as an Indian food lover who doesn’t typically go out to get Indian food (due to food allergies – a topic I will be blogging about soon) I was excited to try out an Indian-inspired lentil recipe that would be sure to be allergen-free and packed with flavor, and this recipe didn’t disappoint at all! I decided to meal prep ½ cup of Coconut Curried Lentils with ½ cup jasmine rice and roasted broccoli and baby carrots for four days’ worth of work lunches. I typically always allow myself one day of free range for lunches in a work week so I don’t get too sick of them and I have some flexibility if a friend or coworker (or I) wanted to go out for lunch instead one day.
How the week went on a plant-based lunch diet:
Note: My dinners continued to contain around 8oz animal-based protein, but overall I did reduce my meat consumption by about 20oz during this work week
Monday was my first day of trying out the coconut curried lentil lunches, and I was pleasantly surprised with not only how tasty they were, but how satisfied I felt afterwards. The extra added fiber in the lunches (along with the protein content of the lentils) really helped fill me up, but I didn’t feel overstuffed or bloated. I had expected to due to the higher carbohydrate content in my lunch (increased by about 20g from average), but I felt fine! In fact, I felt energized after eating my vegan lunch on Day 1 but that was very likely in my head due to the excitement of trying something different
Tuesday was the second day of plant-based lunches, and by the end of the day I felt EXTREMELY bloated and full from the increased fiber intake. But to be fair it was also my time of month which likely added to the bloating.
Wednesday was the third day of plant-based lunches, and while I woke up still feeling bloated from Tuesday, by mid-day I was definitely NOT bloated anymore and was completely cleared out (Sorry if TMI). My digestive system became extremely active Wednesday morning due to the increased fiber load from the past few days, but I was not complaining because one of reasons my doctor suggested increasing my fiber intake was because I was having a hard time using the restroom initially. By Wednesday I was having way too easy of a time and let’s just say me and the restroom saw each other so frequently to the point that an outsider might call our relationship clingy.
Thursday was the fourth day of having the coconut curried lentil lunches, and for the first time during a work week I was actually sad that I was on my last prepped lunch of the week! Usually by Thursday I am pretty sick of my prepped lunches and look forward to Friday to have something different because by Thursday meal-prepped meat can get pretty gross (though still edible). The lentils kept so well after four days that their flavor/texture never changed which I found really exciting – after experiencing the magic of lentils I definitely plan on prepping them again for future lunches! Very active digestion continued Thursday through Friday just an FYI.
Friday I didn’t have another lentil lunch to bring to work, but I was determined to continue the vegetarian lunch/reduced meat consumption goal for another day, so I packed a lunch of veggie-packed egg frittata and rice. It was delicious, but I would have preferred to have my lentils for an extra day instead to be quite honest! I found that I felt more tired after the egg/rice lunch than I did after the lentil/rice lunches – I’m not sure if it had to do more with the fact that I just felt burnt out from the work week in general or if perhaps my body is better at digesting beans than eggs. Either way, here are a couple bullet points to summarize what I experienced or learned during one full work week of swapping out my meat-based lunches for plant-based:
- I got super bloated at first but then my digestion increased SIGNIFICANTLY -after three days I stopped feeling bloated and instead felt completely cleared out 🙂
- Lentils are an excellent protein option for meal prep because they keep so well and don’t change in texture/flavor after a few days in the fridge, but they are not a low carb protein option by any means.
- That being said, increasing my carb intake by 20g+ daily didn’t make me gain weight – in fact by the end of the week I noticed a small decrease on the scale (Note: during this diet experiment I continued to keep my training in the gym very consistent/intense).
- You get a lot less protein from a serving of lentils than you do from a serving of chicken – because of this, I did continue to supplement with a whey protein shake in addition to my lunches (which I already been doing before – so that behavior remained constant).
- I felt like I had more energy and increased satiety throughout the afternoon between lunch and dinner.
- You can save money by going plant-based for lunches! A bag of dried lentils which actually ended up making more than enough for 8 lunches/2 people was only $4 at our local grocery store. 2lbs of chicken or ground turkey, which is what I normally use to prep 8 lunches/2 people averages about $9-10 at our local grocery store. So for half the price of our animal protein-based lunches, I was able to produce more food.
- I decided to go plant-based for my lunches for a second week (this week) after this experience because I liked how I felt after Week 1.
This blog post was rather lengthy and probably teetering on the edge (or falling over the edge) of TLDR, but I’d be interested in hearing from you guys! Has anyone else recently been inspired by plant-based diets and if so, what recipes have you tried or would you like to try out? Let me know.
Feel free to check out my previous blog posts, leave a comment on this blog post, follow my Facebook page, or follow my Instagram page where I post pictures of my dinner daily! Let me know if you see anything you’d like a recipe for. Until next time!
Previous blog posts:
Crispy Pan Fried Tilapia (Gluten Free)
Positive Reinforcement: Staying Motivated During Your Fitness Journey
Weight Loss and Keeping Weight Off – What Worked (and Still Works) for Me 20+ lbs Later
Pan seared salmon with creamy cauliflower mash and sauteed brussel sprouts
My Health and Fitness Journey: Cook2Lean