As much as most people enjoy some sort of animal protein as the centerpiece of their meal, cutting down on meat does more than axe that irreplaceable taste.
Reducing animal protein intake slashes calories, lowers cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, and improves your chances against heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
How can you slowly wean down on your current protein-packed diet? You can try the ‘flexitarian’ diet, which replaces animal protein for similar nutrients found in an assortment of veggies, legumes, and grains. This combination can help protect you against the aforementioned health concerns.
“Plants are nature’s pharmacy,” says Kate Geagan, RD, and author of Go Green Get Lean. “They’re brimming with protective nutrients and antioxidants that you just can’t get from animals.”
Check out this three-week plan to get you started. And don’t worry – meat isn’t nixed cold turkey. This plan will up your plant protein significantly, without depriving you of your weekly Saturday night steak.
Week 1: Mix Up Your Protein
“Meat can have a place on your plate if you’re passionate about that — just shift the proportions,” says Geagan. In other words, it’s all about balance.
Look for Substitutes: Many veggies can adequately replace meat in lots of meals. Try to find at least three you like the next time you shop. “Mushrooms, beans, and chickpeas are my go-tos,” says Elle Penner, RD, a dietitian and blogger.
Combine Proteins: For as many meals as you can stomach in Week 1, sub half of your meat portion with a similar serving of plant protein. As an example, half your usual amount of chicken, and replace them with chickpeas; instead of ground beef, use black beans instead.
Forget the Bacon: Bacon has its own special denomination (as it should). That breakfast time staple has no real substitute – simply avoid eating it when you can. “They contain a ton of sodium, preservatives, and fat,” says Penner.
Week 2: Seven Days of Meatless Meals
Week 1 slowly gets you accustomed to veggies – Week 2 is when the work starts. The goal over these seven days is to add five, 100% vegetarian dishes to your diet.
Skip the Morning Eggs: Swap your omelet for something a little more creative, perhaps oatmeal with nuts, or avocado toast and chia seeds.
A New Lunch Order: Those lunchtime meatball subs and chicken cutlets are a thing of the past. Seek out a falafel in a pita instead; for salads, trade chicken for lentils or edamame.
Transform Your Favourite Dinner: Can’t get enough stir-fry? Keep eating it! But, cook with tofu rather than chicken. Or are you a BBQ person instead? Rather than beef patties, give a quinoa patty a go.
Week 3: Instill the Routine
“By week three, you should have cut your meat consumption in half,” says Geagan. This is when you solidify your newfound flexitarian habits for the long run.
Introduce Umami: A savory flavour found in tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, and other foods, can really bring out the essence of your plant dishes.
Embrace Your Alter Ego – The Nighttime Vegetarian: Completely eradicate meat from weekday dinners – it’s the easiest way, without having to remember anything, to rack up those five meatless meals/week.
Variation: From here on, try to experiment with new vegetarian recipes whenever you can, so your palate doesn’t get bored quickly.