Go meatless at least one day per week. The benefits to being a vegetarian are many, including:
Heart Health – if your diet consists mainly of vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains and fish while limiting processed meats, saturated fats, trans fats, refined carbohydrates and sugar sweetened foods and beverages, studies show that you reduce your risk of heart disease.
Weight Loss – a whole food, plant-based diet increases your fiber intake, which keeps you full longer and helps you eat less. Again, it’s important to avoid junk food, including some of the animal-free, highly processed junk food now on the market.
Cancer Protection – plant based whole foods offer increased fiber, vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting phytochemicals. The reduction in saturated fat from meats and processed foods also reduces cancer risk.
Improved Insulin Response – a balanced vegetarian diet can help you stabilize your blood sugar and make your body more responsive to insulin. Your risk of developing diabetes is 34% lower on a vegetarian diet than a diet rich in animal products and processed foods.
It’s up to you to decide how strict you want to be in your definition of meatless:
Vegan – no animal products at all, including eggs, dairy or honey.
Pescatarian – eating fish but no meat
Lacto-ovo vegetarian – eating eggs and dairy but no meat, poultry or fish
Flexitarian – vegetarian most of the time, but occasionally eating meat. If you’re just starting out meatless and are not ready to commit full time, this is an excellent option. It allows you to eat meat on some days, while avoiding it on others. You’ll want to make sure your diet is balanced and varied, including enough non-meat protein as well as vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, zinc, B12 and D. the following are some excellent non-meat options to choose from:
- Seitan, tofu and tempeh – good meat substitutes in dishes
- Beans and legumes – consider black bean tacos or chili
- Nutritional yeast – for adding a cheesy flavor to dishes like pasta and vegetables
- Seeds – hemp, chia or flaxseeds can be added to smoothies, yogurt, baked goods and oatmeal
- Quinoa – a highly nutritious food which can serve as a side or main dish
- Nuts and nut butters
- Green peas – a surprisingly good source of protein
- Oatmeal – not just for breakfast, but great for baking and as a filler for veggie burgers
- Cruciferous and dark leafy green vegetables – kale, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and Brussels sprouts are all nutrition powerhouses.
Once you conquer meatless Mondays (or whatever day you prefer), aim to add more days to the week and see how far you can take it.