Trimming the fat from your plate and your waist might include going meatless, at least on one day a week. Learn why this approach might bring you better weight-loss results.
Going meatless once a week is one way to spice up your diet while getting fitter and thinner. If you continue to count calories and practice portion control with meat substitutes, “Meatless Mondays” (or any day of your choice) can be a fun addition to your weight-loss plan.
“‘Meatless Mondays’ are a wonderful way to incorporate some healthier habits and save money!” says nutrition therapist Andrea Spivack MA, RD, of Penn Behavioral Health at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “This means opting for beans, peas, lentils, nuts, and seeds, instead of beef, chicken, and pork.”
Going meatless could boost your overall health in addition to helping you achieve your weight loss goals. In fact, the benefits of substituting vegetarian proteins for meat proteins were clearly illustrated in a study of 44 overweight men and women who either ate a diet low in carbs and high in meat protein (the Atkins diet) or a diet low in carbs and high in plant proteins for a month. Dieters in both groups lost between eight and nine pounds, but those in the vegetarian group also saw improvements in their cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and overall levels of fat in their blood. Meatless eating has also been linked to a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some types of cancer.
Going Meatless: What About Calories?
Merely choosing a meatless meal does not necessarily mean you can stop counting calories or controlling your portion sizes. “You must still be aware of high-fat cooking methods and the serving sizes of nuts and seeds, which are calorically dense,” says Spivack. Limit your portions of:
- Oils, such as olive and canola
- Nut butters
Going overboard with these options may hamper your weight-loss goals. But with careful planning, your meatless meal can be lower in calories and still have you feeling full.
“Many plant foods are low in calories, fat-free, and rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Plus, the fiber in plant-based foods can add a feeling of fullness that may help decrease overall calorie consumption, thus aiding in weight reduction,” notes Spivack.
Going Meatless: Create Your First Meatless Meals
Here are ideas for substituting ingredients and making nutritious, meatless dishes:
- Make a soup using beans, vegetables (such as onions, carrots, celery, squash), and grains with a vegetable stock instead of meat stock; lentil, pea, and tomato-based soups are good options.
- Use beans in pasta sauce instead of meat.
- Try vegetarian meat replacement options, such as soy or veggie burgers or hot dogs.
- Replace meat in casseroles with potatoes or mushrooms.
- Try cooking a meatless meal from another cuisine, such as a vegetable curry, veggie and tofu stir-fry, or bean and vegetable tostada.
- If you worry you’ll miss the taste of meat, experiment with condiments, spices, and seasonings to experience a new world of flavor.
You can combine any of these with a salad — try sunflower seeds or meat-free bacon sprinkles for a topping — and whole grains for a more filling meal.
Going Meatless: Reading Labels
The label-reading skills you have developed over the course of your weight-loss efforts will help you make the best choices for meatless meals. Especially if you are choosing replacement meats, such as burgers or hot dogs, pay attention to calories, protein, fiber, and sodium levels. Be aware that:
- Meatless burgers and hot dogs that contain 10 grams or more of protein per serving are less likely to be made from vegetables and more likely to be made from wheat gluten or soy proteins.
- Meatless items may be higher in sodium than their meat counterparts.
- Meatless items are often lower in calories than their meat counterparts.
- People with food allergies need to be on the look-out for ingredients such as soy, wheat, dairy, and nuts even in vegetarian products.
Going meatless once in a while is a healthy option for everybody, as long as you pay attention to the nutritional makeup of your meatless meals as well as to any ingredients that could trigger food allergies. If you have any questions about whether meatless meals will fit into your weight-loss plan, talk to your doctor or a dietitian.