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Plant-Based Diets and How to Eat Less Meat

baked zucchini entree

Cutting back on eating meat can be challenging. Like any diet change, success takes planning as well as learning by trial and error, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Change takes time.

At Northwest Kidney Centers, our nutrition program for people with chronic kidney disease focuses on limiting protein to the levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for healthy adults, which is 0.8 grams of protein per day per kilogram of ideal body weight (not actual body weight).

For example, if your ideal weight is 150 pounds, about 68 kilograms, your protein intake would be calculated as follows: 0.8 x 68 = 54. The WHO recommendation would be 54 grams of protein a day.

Cutting back or cutting out meat in your diet will probably make you healthier, save you money, and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by animals.

Tips for limiting protein:

  • Try recipes that mix several foods. Dishes with grains like whole wheat, brown rice, and corn where veggies and meat are almost a garnish, generally have less protein. Examples are stir-fries, casseroles, salads, and soups.
  • Add more vegetables to your plate. It should be half vegetables and one-third whole grains and starches, while less than a quarter should be meat.
  • Boil or grill vegetables like portabella mushrooms, eggplant, cauliflower, or winter squash, and serve them as the entree with interesting sauces and side dishes. Let the vegetables take center stage.
  • Replace milk in recipes with a lower-protein option like rice milk or almond milk. Some milk substitutes may not work as well in puddings or custards, dishes that require milk proteins. Experiment, but don’t be disappointed if something doesn’t come out quite right. You are learning a new way to cook.
  • Avoid protein powder or protein bars. Look for bars that are high in fiber.
  • Try cream cheese, sour cream, and softer cheeses like feta, queso, or goat cheese. Hard cheeses are usually higher in protein.
  • Replace the animal protein in your favorite recipes with meaty-textured ingredients like potatoes, beets, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, whole grains, lentils, or dried beans.
  • Start Meatless Mondays to cut back on protein and explore new flavors. Better still, strive for three or four veggie-based meals a week.
  • Add mushrooms, parmesan, or grilled tofu to a dish for a meaty umami (savory taste) flavor.
  • Make homemade meat or chicken broths from leftovers when you do eat meat. Freeze and use in other plant-based meals for a meaty flavor.

Stuffed or Baked Zucchini

This end-of-summer dish is great for any zucchini still lurking in your garden or from the grocery store or farmers market. This recipe employs four ways to imitate meat. The Parmesan cheese and mushrooms both provide umami flavor. By keeping the veggies firm, they are a bit chewier and have a meatier texture. By using a vegetable as the centerpiece of the meal, it fills the role of a meat dish. Add crusty French bread and a fruit salad to this dish, and no one will notice there’s no meat.

1 very large zucchini or 3–5 small zucchini

1 12-ounce can low-sodium diced tomatoes

1 cup sliced mushrooms

¼ cup mixed fresh herbs (any mix of oregano, thyme, sage) or 2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning

¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 onion, diced finely

6–8 cloves garlic, minced

2–3 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If using a large zucchini, slice it in half lengthwise. Scoop out the inside and cube, discarding any parts with very large seeds. If using small zucchini, peel and cube. In a medium saucepan, add tomatoes, herbs, parsley, and pepper. Simmer. Meanwhile, in a skillet, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil. Add cubed zucchini and sauté until golden on edges. Add tomato sauce and mix in. If using large zucchini, place halves, cut side up, in greased baking pan. Fill with zucchini and tomato mixture. If using small zucchini, fill greased baking dish. Top with Parmesan cheese. Bake about 15–30 minutes, until slightly resistant to a fork. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional information (per serving)

Calories: 230, Carbohydrates: 26 grams, Protein: 8 grams, Sodium: 160 milligrams

Katy G. WilkensContributor Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. The National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition has honored her with its highest awards for excellence in education and for significant contributions in renal nutrition. She has also been awarded the Medal of Excellence in kidney nutrition from the American Association of Kidney Patients.

Eating Well, Living Well classes

Katy leads a team of registered dietitians that teach FREE nutrition classes at convenient times and locations around Puget Sound. The Eating Well, Living Well classes teach people how to eat healthier to slow the progress of kidney disease and postpone dialysis. Studies show that working with a registered dietitian can postpone dialysis for as long as two years. Learn more at

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