Many of us love meat, in all its various forms – hamburgers, steak, pork chops, bacon, chicken wings, turkey sandwiches. While meat can be a regular part of a balanced eating plan, going vegetarian, or eliminating meat from your diet, is an easy way to cut down on calories and fat, which may ultimately help you achieve your weight loss goals. Meat, especially red meat, can also be very high in saturated fat, the excessive consumption of which can raise your cholesterol levels and increase your risk for heart disease. By swapping meat out for healthier alternatives, like fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and alternative sources of lean protein, you’ll reduce your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions, and you may find that you just feel better overall.
Unfortunately, when most people think of going vegetarian, they think of bland diets comprised solely of fruits and vegetables, which provides little motivation to stop eating meat. However, vegetarian eating doesn’t have to be boring, and all it takes is a little research and creativity to make healthy, tasty vegetarian meals. Wellness Champion Linn Morrill, always a great source of information, recently sent me a tip sheet on vegetarian eating from my new favorite website, Choose My Plate. The sheet provides tips not only on finding new ways to enjoy vegetarian cuisine, but also on how to make sure you obtain all the nutrients you need each day in the absence of consuming certain animal products. Some of my favorite tips include:
- Don’t forget about protein. Good plant-based sources of protein include beans, peas, nuts, soy products (like tempeh and tofu), and quinoa. Vegetarians who also eat eggs and dairy products can get protein from these sources as well.
- Choose calcium. Dairy products are good sources of calcium, as are fortified soymilk, orange juice, and cereal; broccoli; okra; and green leafy veggies like kale, collard greens, and bok choy.
- Bulk up your meal with beans, peas, or mushrooms. They can make a dish taste heartier and “meatier” without the fat and calories of meat.
- Snack on nuts. They’re good sources of protein, fiber, and lots of vitamins and minerals.
- Get enough B12. Vitamin B12 is essential for proper red blood cell health and brain function. Unfortunately, it’s only found in animal products. Try to get your Recommended Daily Intake from eggs and dairy, or fortified foods like cereal or soy products.
The benefits of going vegetarian are many, but making the leap to being totally meat-free can be a big, potentially scary step. If you’d like to reap some of the health benefits of going meat-free without committing to doing so full-time, you can start by celebrating Meatless Monday, a movement dedicated to encouraging people to start their week meat-free and reap the health and environmental benefits associated with doing so. Try to dedicate every Monday (or at least one day each week) to serving flavorful, healthy vegetarian meals, and make note of how good your body feels.