While it is not our mantra to solely endorse a vegetarian or vegan diet, we certainly want to do all we can to support those going down that path. It seems like more and more people are choosing to cut out or at least cut down their meat intake, whether for animal welfare, environmental or health reasons, but lifestyle change can be hard. We hope the following advice will help you transition to a low meat or no meat diet successfully.
Replace the Nutrients Provided by Meat
Probably the most important thing to do when cutting out or cutting down on meat is to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need to remain healthy and thriving. While meat is not a necessary part of the diet, it does provide essential nutrients. So, when you cut down or cut out meat, you must make sure you’re getting these nutrients from other sources. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with nutrient deficiencies and feeling pretty ordinary.
The main nutrients you need to be mindful of are protein as well as iron, zinc, calcium, iodine, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids.
To meet your protein needs without eating meat it’s important to make sure you eat at least two sources of good quality plant-based protein everyday. By good quality plant-based protein we’re talking about:
- Legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils etc.)
- Nuts and seeds
- Soy products (such as tofu, tempeh and miso)
- Wholegrains (such as quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat)
It’s important that you eat a wide variety of different plant-based proteins to make sure you’re meeting your needs. Eggs are an excellent source of high quality protein so if you’re not going vegan, include these too.
You also need to pay special attention to particular vitamins and minerals that may be lacking once you cut down or cut out meat. These are:
Plant-based sources include: Green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach, kale), legumes, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, dried fruits and wholegrain breads and cereals.
Plant-based sources include: Green leafy vegetables, legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds and wholegrain breads and cereals. Also found in eggs and dairy products.
Plant-based sources include: Almonds, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, tofu (calcium set), fortified soy milk and tahini. Also found in dairy products.
Plant-based sources include: Green leafy vegetables, sea vegetables and iodised salt. Also found in eggs and dairy products.
Plant-based sources include: Fortified soy products and yeast extract e.g. Vegemite. Also found in eggs and dairy products.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Plant sources include: Flaxseed/linseed oil and seeds, chia seeds and walnuts.
Build Up a Repertoire of Vegetarian Meals
When you’re cutting out meat or are eating less of it, it’s important to build up a repertoire of meat-free meals that you enjoy cooking and eating. These can include both quick and easy meals, for when you’re low on time mid-week, and also some more time consuming dishes for when you’re not in a rush and feel like spending some time in the kitchen. Some of our favourite meat-free meals include:
- The Big Salad (throw in some legumes and/or nuts for protein)
- Bean Tacos/Enchiladas/Nachos
- Steamed vegetables with rice and tahini sauce
- Tofu and vegetable stir-fry
- Omelette/eggs/Shakshuka (for those eating eggs)
- Vegetarian Chili
- Spinach Pie
- Gado Gado (vegetables with peanut sauce)
- Vegetarian Lasagna
- Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie
The possibilities really are endless and the internet abounds with loads of recipes. Check out our previous posts for our favourite vegetarian food blogs: http://consumewithcare.org/meatless-mondays-or-tuesdays-or-wednesdays/ and http://consumewithcare.org/best-veg-food-blogs-part-2/.
Go Easy on the Carbs and Cheese
Many people switching to a low meat or no meat diet tend to rely on meals containing lots of carbs and cheese, such as pasta and rice dishes. Not only are neither of these good sources of high quality protein, eating too much of them can lead to weight gain. It’s not that you need to avoid carbs and cheese (if you choose to still eat dairy), it’s just that you shouldn’t go overboard on them. You are better off basing your meals around good quality plant-based proteins, such as legumes, nuts and eggs (if not vegan) and eating carbs and cheese in moderation.
There are so many great reasons to cut down or cut out meat. Whatever your motivations, keep them top of mind to help you stay on track and keep motivated. With a bit of planning and perseverance you will make the transition successfully and reap the many benefits of a plant-based diet. Good luck and as always, please remember to consume with care!