A magical combination of foods is sweet potato, black beans, feta cheese and avocado … well at least to me! Not only do they all taste delicious and complement each other well, you’re covering pretty much all your macronutrients when you put them together:
Sweet potatoes = carbs, Black beans = protein (and carbs), Feta cheese = fat (and protein), Avocado = fat.
Add some veggies, and bam! You’ve got a very balanced meal in one potato. Even people who are skeptical of feeling satisfied after a meatless meal will love them
I was a vegetarian (or really, pescatarian) for around 10 years, and closed that chapter of my life about 5-6 years ago after my body and mind feel best when my diet contains everything, including red meat. Plus, after taking my very first nutrition class at Flagler College, and dissecting my own diet, I realized I was lacking vitamin B12 and iron.
Nutrition tip: Heme iron, which is only found in animal proteins like beef, is better absorbed in our bodies than nonheme iron, which you find in plant proteins. And animals proteins are the only natural sources of vitamin B12. If you are vegetarian, it’s important to make sure some vitamins and minerals like B12 and iron are adequate in your diet, whether through food or supplements.
That being said, I often crave (and have always craved) a more vegetarian-ish diet. While I certainly don’t have a label for the way I eat, it’s a more “plant-forward” way of eating, but with plenty of room for fish, beef, poultry, eggs, yogurt and cheese (my love).
A Note on Plant-Forward
Earlier this month, I attended a conference at the Culinary Institute of America (in Napa Valley!) for work, and the department of nutrition at Harvard was there exploring the latest nutrition research. They presented this term, “plant-forward,” as opposed to “plant-based.” I really love this term, because it’s more all-encompassing and less extreme. While a plant-forward way of eating has its emphasis on plant-based foods, it doesn’t mean you’re excluding meat or dairy. It’s inclusive of ALL foods, which is precisely why I love the term so much.
At the conference, the presentations I was most interested in were the ones by the Harvard researchers. While they weren’t the most entertaining presenters and there were lots of graphs, I was excited to learn more emerging nutrition research. One of the researchers presented on a study published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), which included a sample size of over 131,000 people. I won’t get too technical here, but one of the overarching conclusions he drew was this:
Higher intake of animal protein was associated with higher mortality and higher intake of plant protein was associated with lower mortality.
Substitution of plant protein for animal protein, especially from processed red meat, may confer a substantial health benefit.
The study found that when just 3 percent of energy (or calories) from plant protein was subbed for the same amount of protein from processed red meat (like bacon, deli meat, or hot dogs), there was an association with reduced mortality. THREE percent! To put that into context, if someone eats about 2,000 calories a day, that’s only 60 calories. So, that’s like swapping 2 pieces of bacon for a plant-based alternative, like 2 slices of tempeh. Other plant-based proteins are tofu, edamame, peanut/nut butter, nuts & seeds, beans, lentils, hemp & chia seeds, etc.
This doesn’t mean that if you don’t start subbing tempeh for your bacon this week, then you’re going to die sooner. It just means that including more plant-based proteins in your diet is a good idea, and it doesn’t take an entire diet upheaval to do so.
Keep in mind: This study was an observational cohort study, not the gold standard (which is a double-blind randomized trial) and can only conclude that there is an association, not a cause-and-effect result.
Back to the recipe
Make sure you grab huge sweet potatoes! If they’re too small, you won’t be able to fit all the yummy filling inside. Think of the sweet potato like your bowl.
Feel free to leave the cayenne out if you really don’t like spice. It definitely gives it a little kick. You may also want to leave the Sriracha out of the sauce if that’s the case.
While most of the ingredients I use are fresh, I am a big fan of low sodium canned beans, especially for busy weeks.
Also, you’ll probably have sauce left over, and it’s really great as a salad dressing, or just as a nice sauce on top of some grilled veggies. So just pop it in a mason jar or tupperware and let it chill in your fridge for up to a week.
Aside from deliciousness, this recipe is one of my faves because I can make the sauce and bean filling all while the potatoes are cooking. When I want to make it super quick, I’ll pop the potatoes in the microwave one at a time (for 10-12 minutes each), and in the meantime, blend the sauce and make the bean filling. So, it’s all set in about 20 minutes! Can’t beat that.
So, I give you this easy and delicious recipe, perfect for a weeknight meal, or really, whenever you please.
With love and light,
TexMex Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Avocado Sauce
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2 Large Sweet Potatoes
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 15 oz. can low sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4-1/2 cup red onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (omit if you don't like spicy)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup fresh cilantro with stems
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp Sriracha sauce
1/2 cup water
2 garlic cloves
Poke holes in sweet potatoes with a fork.
Bake in oven at 400 for about 45 minutes, or until soft. OR microwave on high for 10 to 12 minutes, or until soft.
In a blender, combine all sauce ingredients and pulse until smooth. Pour into a jar or bowl, and set aside.
Heat oil in skillet over medium heat.
In a medium bowl, combine beans, onion, garlic, cumin, cayenne and pepper.
Add the bean mixture to the heated skillet and cook until onions soften, about 5 minutes.
Once sweet potatoes are cooked through, slice down the middle of each and open like a book.
Spoon half the bean mixture into each sweet potato, and top each with 1/4 cup cheese.
Pour sauce on top of each sweet potato.
Serve with salsa, chips or a side of veggies if you wish.
Whole Self Nutrition http://www.thewholeyogird.com/