Abstaining from meat every now and then is good for you. In fact, it could help lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease, which for decades, has been the number one cause of mortality in the world, accounting for 1 in every 4 deaths in the US! You don’t have to entirely give up your carnivorous eating. You can try a semi-vegetarian or flexitarian eating style. You can still eat lean meat, just aim for less.
What is your dinner without meat, you may ask? There are more options than you’d think, and your meal won’t be boring! For example, want a cheeseburger? Choose an alternative like a grilled black bean burger or bunless quinoa burger.
Here are some expert tips for going meatless and why it helps:
Expert Tip #1: “Most of the cholesterol-raising saturated fats that Americans eat come from meat and full-fat dairy products such as whole milk cheese,” said Alice Lichtenstein, D.Sc., a professor of nutrition at Tufts University and an AHA volunteer. “If you decrease your daily intake of animal fat, you’re going to decrease your intake of saturated fat.”
Expert Tip #2: “Many meatless meals are as simple as moving vegetables and fruits from a side dish to a starring role. You should also seek out high-fiber whole grains, beans and legumes, unsalted nuts, and lower fat and fat-free dairy foods. These tend to be high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and other important phytonutrients,” said Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., and R.D., a nutrition professor at the University of Vermont and vice chair of the American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee.
Expert Tip #3: “An easy way to get started is to eat one meatless meal a week,” suggests Dr. Johnson. “Sticking with it can quickly make you start feeling lighter and your wallet fatter: People who eat less meat tend to consume fewer calories, and foods such as beans are one of the most cost-effective sources of protein available. Meat typically costs more per pound than other protein sources.
If meatless is not for you, don’t worry. You don’t have to go cold turkey on meat to adopt a heart healthy eating style.
- Are you a fan of chicken or fish? Skinless poultry and fish containing omega-3 fatty acids are good protein choices and easy to prepare in healthy ways.
- Got to have red meat? Limit it to once in a while. Choose the leanest cut available, reduce your portion size to no more than 6 oz. cooked, remove all visible fat, and cook in a healthy way to avoid excess saturated fats.
And remember, a meatless meal doesn’t automatically translate to less saturated fat!
Expert Tip #4: "You can drop meat, but if you substitute quiche for steak, you’re not going to get any advantage in terms of heart health,” Dr. Lichtenstein cautioned. "Make sure you’re making healthy swaps."
Here are some other tips for eating less meat:
- Keep your home stocked with meat alternatives like vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, and tofu.
- Look for meatless recipes or substitute meat portions from recipes with vegetables. The American Heart Association also offers healthy, vegetarian entrees in its cookbooks and the online recipe center.
- Go meatless at work. If you have an office kitchen, keep convenient meatless foods around, such as veggie burgers and other vegetarian microwavable meals, for an easy lunch.