Don’t be Clueless About Meatless — Read this before going Vegetarian

By Anne L’Heureux, LD, RD

Meatless Mondays are nothing new. In fact, the Global Meatless Monday Movement originated in 2003 in association with John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Now the movement is in 44 different countries and growing. Why is the trend so popular?

Before you jump on board the meatless train, be sure you’re choosing it for the right reasons (and avoiding meatless pitfalls). By doing so, you’ll be able to do it the right way, the smart way, and your impact will go far beyond your dinner plate.

Here are some of the reasons why people are reducing meat and upping plant intake:


  • Reduction of cardiovascular risk through increased phytonutrient intake (swapping out their meaty portion for more vegetables and whole grains).
  • Reduced cancer risk, sometimes associated with increased red meat intake. (This risk is shown to be reduced with the power of plants.)
  • Weight management through lower overall caloric intake. (This is not an automatic. See below.)
  • Increased satiety through higher fiber intake, leading to better weight management and reduced colon cancer risk.
  • Feeding our healthcare wallet: with 75% of the $2 trillion spent on medical care costs going to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer, plus an additional $147 billion on obesity, the above reductions in health issues helps everyone reduce costs indirectly.
  • Environmental factors: Score one for the planet! Swapping out even one meatless meal per week can help minimize water usage, reduce greenhouse gasses, and reduce fuel dependence.

One of my goals this year was to include a new meatless recipe every week. After all, I knew there was a world of plant-based meal options out there that I hadn’t yet uncovered. One way that I set out to meet this goal was to sign up for one of those meal delivery services for 3 months (which, by the way, I highly recommend). Although I didn’t hit my weekly goal (it ended up being more like twice monthly), I did have the opportunity to learn some new techniques and flavor combinations.

But there is something else I encountered. Although I was enjoying more meatless options, I wasn’t necessarily having healthier portions. Most people think of the words meatless, vegetarian, or vegan and believe they are synonymous with healthy, nutritious, and lean. And while this may be the case for some, it doesn’t happen automatically.

Here are a few ways to make sure going meatless doesn’t leave your body high and dry.

  1. Manage Overall Calories: Some of the recipes were requiring the use of legumes, seeds, and nuts for proteins and healthy fats. Although nutritious, they are also quite Calorie-dense. If I had followed the portion size outlined by the recipe, I would have easily eaten twice my necessary Calories in one sitting.
  2. Don’t Stack Carbs on Carbs: Everyone’s individual carbohydrate needs are different. My current training plan has me following a lower than usual carb load some days of the week. The challenge here was that the meatless meals were utilizing a lot of beans and/or rice, quinoa, or other grains. Again, loaded with nutrition but more carbohydrates than I was necessarily needing.
  3. Hold the oil. Healthy oils have heart health benefits including increasing our HDL (high-density lipoprotein, aka Healthy Cholesterol) while helping to reduce LDL (low-density lipoprotein, aka Lousy Cholesterol). This is great. But at ~120 Calories per tablespoon, you can quickly rise above your Calorie allotment for the day. This was another piece I had to watch on my new recipe adventure. Remember, even nutritious foods when overeaten can lead to weight gain.
  4. Load up on fiber. Make half of your place veggies to assure ample phytonutrients.
  5. Vary your nutrients. Include a variety of veggie colors to assure a variety of vitamins and minerals. Try to get in all colors of the rainbow throughout your week.
  6. Check your macros. Avoid too many Calories from any one macronutrient (carbs, proteins, or fats). Instead, look for a variety and choose meals that reflect your individual approach. (Most websites and cookbooks now list nutrition facts with every recipe.)

Go beyond one meatless meal per week to reap even greater health benefits. Here are a few options:


  • Replace bacon in scrambled eggs with savory vegetables such as mushrooms or spinach.
  • Replace your lunch meats with hummus, tomato, and alfalfa sprouts.
  • Toss beef jerky, and instead try a handful of heart healthy nuts or seeds.
  • Swap out beef in chili with a vegetable crumble.

Including one meatless recipe a week is one thing. Going straight up meatless is a whole other story. The benefits are bountiful, but a lack of knowledge can lead to nutrient deficits and caloric excess. Check out more blog posts on plant-based diet approaches on the Spartan Blog.

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic diseases: the power to prevent, the call to control, at-a-glance 2009. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009.
  2. Finkelstein EA, Trogdon JG, Cohen JW, Dietz W. Annual medical spending attributable to obesity: payer-and service-specific estimates. Health Aff. 2009 Sep-Oct;28(5):w822-31
  3. Rice, Diane. “Try Meatless Monday to Lower Your Meat and Salt Consumption.” Sodium Breakup. American Heart Association, 19 Feb. 2016. Web. 02 Apr. 2017
  4. http://www.meatlessmonday.com/