Whatever your reason, eating less meat is a good thing: meat recalls, environmental woes, financial cost, and ethical concerns are enough to turn even the most Neanderthal-esque carnivore into a sprout-lovin' vegan. If weight loss is a concern, cutting back on meat is also a simple way to reduce calories and up nutrients in your diet. But for those of us that can't resist the lure of a juicy burger, luscious pork belly, or the satisfying saltiness of bacon, it's becoming harder to reconcile what we want with what's best. Barring becoming a vegetarian, one way to handle the whole being-a-responsible-meat-eater thing is to do what you can to eat more plant-based in the upcoming year.
Give Yourself a Weekly Meat Budget
Instead of making the meat the main attraction of your meal, think of it as a side dish. An easy way to cut back is to give yourself a meat allowance of about a pound a week. This still allows you to have bacon with your Sunday brunch, or throw in some chicken breast with your salad, but it encourages you to use fresh produce and whole grains for the majority of your meals.
Take Part in Meatless Mondays
Can't go vegetarian on a daily basis? Give yourself a goal of cutting it out at least one day a week. As this becomes easier, you might add on extra days or follow the Vegan Before Dinner diet, popularized by cookbook author and food advocate Mark Bittman. Giving up meat doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing choice, small changes can make a big impact. A recent study indicates that livestock production is responsible for a whopping 20 percent of human-caused greenhouse gases, and that eating less meat can reduce your carbon footprint.
Wean Yourself Off Slowly
A great tip we got from Lisa Eberly, MPH, RD, is to give meat up gradually. "Start by going to white meat sources, then to fish, then move to high-fiber and high-protein grains and beans," she said. Doing so allows your mind and body to adjust to the change without feeling deprived. Eberly also stresses that whole grains and legumes are essential in a vegetarian diet. Not only are the nutrient-rich, but they are a satisfying replacement for meat. Bean burgers, anyone?
Find Satisfying Substitutes
Giving up meat isn't always easy, the flavors and texture can be hard to replicate. To make the shift a little easier for yourself, Eberly suggests that in addition to whole grains and legumes, you incorporate starchy veggies like squash and sweet potatoes because "they feel more feel more filling than leaner veggies." Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, also echoes this and suggests mushrooms as a good stand-in for meat. "They're savory, very versatile, and great source vitamin D," Zanini said. If veggies still won't cut it, try meat substitutes that mimic the taste and texture of the real thing.
I Did All of This, But Still REALLY Want Meat
If all of the above fails, and you find that you are still craving meat at every meal, you may be low in iron or need protein, says Eberly. Make sure to incorporate vegetarian protein sources and plant-based, iron-rich foods in every meal. Doing so should help you feel satisfied and give your body the nutrients it's craving.
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