It’s not always easy for everyone to give up meat. Over the years, our culture has taught us that meat is a necessary and normal part of the human diet. Luckily, that’s all changing very quickly as we learn the damaging effects of animal proteins (especially from meat) in the body, and as we learn more and more through research that it’s not essential to eat a healthy diet. In fact, meat contributes to a variety of health problems it’s time to start addressing with ease, knowledge, and a fearless attitude in what we might have to change about our lifestyles and ways of thinking.
Meat reduction and elimination has been linked to lower risks of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, digestion problems, inflammation, high cholesterol, and more. Meat consumption is also one of the leading causes of antibiotic resistance in our food supply and a large contributor to unhealthy offerings at fast food and supermarket chains everywhere. While you could easily go to a doctor and get a medication to treat one of these health issues above, consistently eating an unhealthy diet will eventually lead to problems.
Why Going Meatless is a Win for Your Health
Instead of masking the problem and bandaging the symptoms, we’ve got to start treating the problem directly. That starts with our ability and privilege to choose what we eat every single day. We do have a choice and it’s much easier than we realize.
However, giving up meat doesn’t mean turning to unhealthy meat alternatives or just eating vegan junk food. It means turning to real foods that supply the body with essential proteins, vitamins, and minerals to not only improve the heart, blood, and immune system, but also keep your energy up and digestion working well. All of these are key to a healthy body.
Let’s take a look at some of the top foods to eat once the meat is off your plate …
1. Complete Plant-Based Proteins
For those concerned with protein, don’t sweat it … it’s really easy to get enough of in a plant-based diet. Most people know this, but some still worry they’ll come up short. Though all foods have protein, we should focus on at least eating 1-2 complete protein sources a day, then adding in other sources (even if not complete) throughout the rest of the day. Some of the best options of complete protein include: tofu, tempeh, hemp protein, quinoa, chia, amaranth, buckwheat, spirulina, and whole soybeans (edamame). These are much better alternatives and sourced from whole foods versus chalky protein bars or overly processed veggie burgers (here’s how to pick a good one if you enjoy them). Try all of our protein-rich recipes for many types of meal ideas and more.
2. Nutrient Dense Greens
Kale isn’t just trendy and spinach wasn’t tied to Popeye all for marketing (not completely, anyway). Nutrient-dense greens satisfy the body like no other food, they heal and repair, and ultimately, they prevent disease. You cook them, eat them raw, juice them, blend them, whatever you want. Stir-frying greens is a great way to enjoy them when you first give up meat, especially with some garlic, onion, maybe some lentils or beans, or some quinoa. It makes a smoky, rich dish that really satisfies and heals the body. Or, try this protein-rich kale salad that’s packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and satisfaction. Don’t focus on what you can’t have … focus on adding foods that you can and are choosing to have instead. Choose leafy greens — they never disappoint.
3. Meaty Veggies
Meaty veggies are important to keep on hand because they have a dense, chewy texture and provide amazing flavors to your food. Artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes and regular potatoes are all some of the best. These foods are also rich in vitamins and minerals your body needs for good health and can help support detoxification that happens when the body quits eating meat. These foods are also great sources of fiber to improve cholesterol and all offer anti-cancer support. Here’s some more tips to add heft and heartiness to your meals when you give up meat that really work wonders!
4. Mineral-Rich Foods
Mineral rich foods include all foods that are high in magnesium, iron, calcium, manganese, copper, and more. Magnesium is crucial to optimal energy levels along with muscle repair, lowering blood pressure, digestive regularity, and optimizing your mood. Iron is essential to a healthy metabolism and is quite simple to get enough of on a plant-based diet. Calcium can keep your nails strong, prevents bone loss, and unlike calcium found in animal sources, plant-based options don’t cause inflammation. Eat these mineral-rich foods: almonds, cashews, hemp seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, mulberries, quinoa, amaranth, teff, oats, walnuts, raisins, goji berries, millet, flax, kale, spinach, broccoli, beans, legumes, bananas, figs, dates, oranges, cacao, avocado, and coconut. Talk about variety!
5. Healthy Fats
Healthy fats support the body’s membranes and can help relieve inflammation, along with keep insulin levels healthy. Research has shown that insulin increases with a higher intake of low fiber, high carbohydrate foods and improves when a moderate amount of healthy fats are eaten. The key is to choose the right type of fats that offer anti-inflammatory properties to the body. Healthy fats from plant-based sources include: avocado, nuts, seeds, coconut, olives (or olive oil), durian and acai fruit. Healthy fats satisfy the palate, the brain, lower the glycemic response, and add texture and flavor to meals, even in just a couple tablespoons per serving. See our Plant-Based Nutrition 101 Guide: Healthy Fats for more tips, recipes, and info on plant-based fat options.
The Main Focus: Eat Whole Foods
Instead of focusing on just certain foods to eat, overall, base your diet off whole foods as much as you can. They’re more filling than processed foods and will reduce your cravings for unhealthy foods that so often accompany our cravings for meat and animal products (especially if you eat out at restaurants, fast food joints, or eat junk food where sodium and oils are commonly added to enhance the taste). Your taste buds can and will adapt to whatever you choose to eat. The cravings go away and eventually, you learn to love new foods. And in the process, before you realize it, you’re a much healthier (and happier!) you. Not to mention, the world, animals, and even food cost production also benefit too.
Let’s shift our focus away from meat as the main source of fuel for our bodies. When you think about it, we don’t need to go through an animal to get the nutrients that come straight from nature. Also, be sure you check out our Meatless Monday ideas for the Beginner Cook for menu suggestions and more. What will you make first without the meat?
Lead Image Source: Meatless No-Fu Love Loaf