Meat gets so much attention these days from not only the food industry, but also several dietary communities such as Paleo enthusiasts, low-carb eaters, and even those who eat a processed-free food, overall whole foods diet. While these dietary communities and beliefs may have their upsides, meat is most definitely not a positive part of the equation, nor is it really necessary for any of them.

Reasons to Reconsider Meat and Beliefs About Plant-Based Diets

Whole food-based, vegan diets surprisingly still get a pretty bad rap. It seems that many people still believe vegans just wake up, eat tofu, drink soy milk, and eat mock meat products but that isn’t true at all. In fact, you can eat a healthy plant-based diet and never include any of those foods in your diet. Also consider that meat is an ingredient, just like every other food. You have to prep meat quite a bit to even make it flavorful, and the production that goes into it alone is worth thinking about when considering … is it really that unprocessed?

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Meat production accounts for a large part of agricultural decline. It’s possibly the number one reason we’re experiencing climate change and a weakened environment overall. But meat isn’t just bad for the environment and the animals (despite being incredibly cruel, even on organic farming methods).

Why Meat is Not the Best Source of Protein and What to Eat Instead

Plain and simple, meat is also just not the healthiest choice. It has been repeatedly linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, inflammation, and if you’re an athlete, it will likely slow you down, not  “beef” you up. Meat is also expensive! Just think of the amount of money you could save on groceries without spending over $10 on a package of meat for one or possibly two dinners.

But the big question everyone has when going meatless for health or other reasons, is “What do I eat?’ Good question! There’s no need to opt for tofu or any other meat replacement product if you don’t want to. While they can be prepared deliciously with a few tips and tricks, you don’t physically need them to survive on a plant-based diet.

Here are some whole food options that are a much healthier choice than beef, and best of all, they even come with health benefits to improve your health and are inexpensive.

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1. Glorious Greens!

kale

You will never see greens the same way again until you’ve experienced their energizing, cleansing, revitalizing, and restoring benefits. Truly, greens have it going on when it comes to meal varieties, taste, and nutrition. Who said it was all about salads? You can use greens to make stir-fries with, burgers, wraps, smoothies, vegan omelet or quiche, juices, soups, stews, and yes, even hearty salads that will keep you full just as much as meat without the side effects.

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Kale and spinach are both rich in protein and spinach, per ounce, has more protein than beef! Greens alkalize the body and are packed with B vitamins, protein, chlorophyll, Vitamins A, C, and E, and even pack in some nice amounts of iron as well.

2. Lentils

lentils

Lentils are a “safe” legume, if you will. What we mean is, most people who aren’t fond of beans will actually enjoy lentils. They’re quick and easy to cook, easier to digest than beans, and they have a really, sweet nutty flavor that goes well in just about anything. They’re also packed with protein and to be frank, are dirt cheap. A pound of organic lentils at Whole Foods is around $2.99, which will last you a month if you ate them five times a week. They also come in red, green, and other varieties, with red lentils being the sweetest and the ones that don’t need to be soaked before cooking. Lentils pack in 18 grams of protein in just a cup and go great in soups, stews, and can be used to make meaty burgers, meatballs, a plant-based meatloaf, and tacos in place of soy products. Bonus? They’re a top source of iron, providing 32 percent of your daily needs in a cup for only 230 calories and 36 grams of fiber! Take it slow with lentils if you’re new to eating this much fiber at once.

3. Oats

oats

While they might seem like a simple breakfast food, here us out. Oats can be used to make veggie burgers and even help hold them together pretty well too, or can be used to thicken other foods of all kinds. Oats are a fantastic source of iron with over 10 percent of your daily needs in just 1/3 cup, not to mention cholesterol-fighting fiber.They’re also packed with protein, providing 8 grams in one half cup to help build lean muscle, and are one of the lowest starch grains for those watching their carbohydrate content. You can use oats in place of lower fiber rice to make soups, burgers, stuff them into wraps, or enjoy them as a sweet or savory porridge with whatever add-ins you enjoy.  If you’re a gluten-free eater, oats can also be bought gluten-free and organic to prevent contamination.

If you’re not into oats or don’t tolerate them, then go with quinoa, the well-known mighty pseudo-grain that’s a great source of amino acids as well.

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4. Black Beans

blackbeans

Black beans are another top favorite among plant-based eaters that also pack in some serious nutrition and are fairly easy to digest. Per half cup, they provide almost 15 grams of protein with a large dose of iron and almost 12 grams of fiber. Black bean burritos are a favorite even among the most dedicated meat lovers and make a great transition dish that anyone can add to their diets. Black beans can also be used to make hearty burgers, added to soups and stews or salads, or can be eaten as a simple side, stuffed into a sweet potato with some salsa for lunch, and some people even use them in healthy brownies!

5. Hemp

hempseeds

Hemp seeds or hemp protein powder are popular forms of plant-based protein because they’re a whole food that provides a whopping dose of easy to digest protein. Per 3 tablespoons, hemp seeds will provide 11 grams of protein, while many varieties of hemp protein powder will provide up to 15 grams per 3 tablespoons. Hemp is also a good source of iron, providing 45 percent of your daily requirements in 3 tablespoons and also filled with magnesium, chlorophyll, potassium, and omega 3 fatty acids (no fish needed!). You can make a smoothie, bake with it, stir it into anything, and even add it to your veggie burgers, porridge, or make homemade energy bars and bites with hemp.

These five foods aren’t the only source of meat-free proteins to enjoy, but they are some of the most nutrient dense that will give you a good bit of nutrition for your hard-earned money. Remember that replacing meat in your diet starts by adding things in. Focus on replacing and replenishing, instead of sacrificing and surviving.

Need some more meatless tips? See all our Meatless Monday posts for more inspiration!

What’s your favorite meat-free food that helped you transition to a meat-free life?

Lead Image Source: monica.shaw/Flickr