If you've decided to give up eating meat, you're taking a big step toward living a healthier, longer life. A multitude of research shows that eating meat may result in increased risk of certain cancers, heart disease and diabetes and shortens your life span. Lifelong meat eaters may at first feel daunted by the prospect of planning meatless meals, but there are a variety of tasty and satisfying foods to fill the gap.
Defining Your Diet
Before you can plan your meatless meals, you have to decide which types of meat you're giving up. Red meat and especially processed meats are the worst types for your health. Although poultry still contains saturated fat, the type of fat that can raise your cholesterol, it doesn't contain as much as red meat, especially if you choose skinless, light meat cuts. Fish is a healthy part of any diet, providing essential fatty acids that support heart health. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week.
Sources of Protein
If you're going completely animal-flesh-free, you might wonder where you'll get your protein. Eggs provide high-quality complete protein, meaning they provide all the essential amino acids your body needs to build and maintain muscle and support the immune system, among other functions. Dairy products such as cheese and yogurt are also meat-free sources of complete protein. Beans, including soy beans and soy products, are an excellent source of plant protein, as are nuts and seeds. Some grains are also rich in protein. Soy and quinoa, a seed that is eaten like a grain, are the only plant sources of complete protein. Other plant foods provide incomplete protein; however, if you eat a variety of plant foods each day, you'll get all the amino acids your body needs.
Meal Planning Made Easy
Meatless meals should follow the same protocol as meals with meat: You need to get foods from all the food groups to ensure you're getting the nutrients your body needs. At each meal, imagine your plate split into sections. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one-quarter of your plate with a protein-rich food, such as tofu or fish, and the other quarter with grains, preferably whole grains, which are richer in fiber and better for you. Have a serving of dairy or a dairy alternative with your meal to ensure you get the calcium your body needs.
Meatless Meal Ideas
Breakfasts are easy when you're not eating meat -- whip up an omelet with spinach and mushrooms and a sprinkle of cheddar cheese. Have a slice of whole-grain toast on the side. Satisfy your midday hunger and get energy for the afternoon ahead with a big salad loaded with leafy greens and other colorful veggies, such as red cabbage, carrots and bell peppers. Top your salad with tuna or tofu chunks, 1/2 cup of quinoa and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds. At dinner time, create a a one-dish, satisfying meal with whole-grain ravioli, white beans, sauteed kale and tomatoes.
- National Institutes of Health: Risk in Red Meat?
- American Heart Association: Eat More Chicken, Fish and Beans Than Red Meat
- Harvard School of Public Health: Fish: Friend or Foe?
- American Heart Association: Meat, Poultry and Fish
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Protein
- Whole Grains Council: Quinoa – March Grain of the Month
- Go Ask Alice!: Complete and Incomplete Proteins in Grains and Vegetables?
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: Getting Started With MyPlate
- Photo Credit Adam Korzeniewski/iStock/Getty Images