How to make plant-based foods tasty

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CHICAGO-- If you’re goal is to eat a healthier diet this year, focus on flavor. Health experts want us to eat more plant-based foods. Making them tasty is the trick.

Vicki Shanta Retelny, registered dietitian nutritionist: "The United Nations has designated this the year of the pulses."

It’s news you may not have heard … 2016 is the year to eat lentils, beans and peas – all plant-based proteins that will liven up and lighten your diet.

Vicki Shanta Retelny: "They’re economical, they’re affordable for most people, they are high in protein and they are high in fiber, and they are a great meat substitute. They’re really quick and easy to make."

Throw them in water or low-sodium broth. Bring them to a boil and simmer until the liquid is absorbed.

Vicki Shanta Retelny: "So a quarter cup of dry lentils has eight grams of protein and nine grams of fiber, which is really important to think about because you’re not getting fiber from animal protein."

Registered dietitian and nutritionist Vicki Shanta Retelny says the recommendation is about one-and-a-half cups per week … but ease the pulses into your diet.

Vicki Shanta Retelny: "Because you’re getting so much fiber in your legumes, you want to think about taking in enough liquid or slowly adding in legumes into your diet if you’re not used to eating them already."

And when it comes to adding flavor to a bland but healthy protein -- the benefit is in the blend.

Vicki Shanta Retelny: "Legumes, like lentils and black eyed peas and even garbanzo beans, are like a blank canvas. You can think about hot chilis with a little rice wine vinegar and garlic, a touch of sugar can make a really spicy blend."

The added heat can help keep blood pressure down and boost cardiovascular function. If spicy doesn’t suit your palate … consider a pop of citrus.

Vicki Shanta Retelny: "I would add a little bit of red grapefruit."

A pinch of rosemary, some goat cheese or feta and a dash of olive oil …

Vicki Shanta Retelny: "Then I do a little bit of the juice of the grapefruit to give it a little citrus and that is it. Then I toss this over greens,"

A sweeter blend using turmeric, cinnamon and cocoa powder has even sweeter benefits.

Vicki Shanta Retelny: "Turmeric is very anti-inflammatory. Cinnamon helps keep blood sugar in normal range. And cocoa powder similarly, same thing -- a lot of antioxidants and polyphenols. You can bake with it, add it to your oatmeal. By infusing these flavors you’re adding more nutritional value."

You can learn more about healthy eating at www.simplecravingsrealfood.com.

Vicki Shanta Retelny is a Lifestyle Nutritionist and author of Total Body Diet for Dummies.​