Meat is a staple of each meal in most American homes. Turkey or ham sandwiches for lunch, beef stew or broiled chicken for dinner. But what if you could fix your family a balanced meal that served up all the nutrients they needed, while also increasing their overall health — and it didn’t include meat?
Swapping out an animal-based protein for plant protein has far-reaching effects. A review published in the 2009 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found multiple studies that examined the health of vegetarians, those who don’t eat meat, and found that vegetarians had a lower risk of coronary heart disease, lower rates of hypertension and diabetes, lower prevalence of obesity, lower cancer rates and a higher life expectancy.
“We would love more and more people to be vegetarian,” said Theresa Anderson, a dietitian and diabetes educator with Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center. “If you look around the world to where the most people live to be 100, coined the ‘Blue Zones,’ the common denominator is beans as the main source of protein in their diet. People in those areas generally eat meat no more than five times a month.”
In addition to beans, good sources of protein come from things like soy products, eggs, milk and milk products like cheese and yogurt. To a lesser extent, protein is also found in nuts and seeds.
“You can’t put nutrition in a bubble. There are a lot of things that contribute to a healthy life, but there are certain things, like red meat, that are proven time and time again to be harmful,” said Anderson. “Making small changes and looking for ways to decrease the amount of meat you eat and increase the amount of plants you eat is hugely beneficial to your health and your long-term quality of life.”
To start incorporating more plant proteins in your diet, start small. Likely your steak and potatoes won’t taste the same without the steak, but consider swapping out one meal a week for something vegetarian. There are many recipe books, blogs and cooking websites with great ideas you can scroll through for a meat-free meal that would appeal to your family. Or try one of these tips to help you go meat free.
- Use a meatless replacement product, like those found in the frozen food aisle, for vegetarian chicken nuggets, ground burger, bacon and more.
- Introduce an Asian or Mexican meal that relies on vegetables, herbs, and tofu or beans for flavor and nutrition. Sometimes trying something completely new is easier than expecting your favorite meal to taste the same without the meat.
- Don’t worry about making it too “healthy” right away. Going straight to the black-eyed peas and steamed rice may feel a little bland and unfulfilling. Use the fats, oils and seasonings you normally cook with to make food tasty. Just reducing the amount of meat you consume is a good first step.