The typical “meat-and-two-vegetables” meal is being challenged as more and more people are turning to a new approach that involves trimming not only the fat, but the meat that comes with it. Going meatless for one meal per week has been gaining popularity due to increased awareness of the positive effects doing so can have on our environment, such as reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and minimizing our water usage. Since produce requires less energy than livestock, eating meatless on occasion could actually have a global impact.
But registered dietitian Heather Pierce with the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center says the benefits aren’t just external. “Eating one meatless meal per week can decrease our saturated fat intake by 15 percent in that meal, which, in turn, can impact the risk for heart disease,” she said. “But, naturally, some will wonder about other options for getting protein if you do decide to skip meat in one of your meals. Fortunately, there are quite a few tasty options. Meat, cheese, eggs and milk products are, of course, great sources of protein, but there are plenty of plant-based sources, as well,” she explained.
“Protein can be found in small quantities in vegetables and grains,” Pierce said. “The trick is to have a varied diet. Quinoa, known as the ‘mother grain’ by the Incans, is a complete source of protein. This means it has all essential amino acids,” she said. “Foods with an incomplete amino acid profile don’t necessarily have to be combined in the same meal as many once thought. This is because amino acids tend to find a way of joining together once they’re inside our bodies,” she explained.
“Quinoa also has 9 grams of protein per cup when cooked, and also is a good source of fiber and iron,” Pierce said. “Plus, it’s easy to prepare. If you can cook rice, you can cook quinoa. It’s more expensive than rice, but it can take the place of meat in a meal,” she added. Pierce says bulgur is another high-protein grain. “Bulgur has 6 grams of protein per cup and can be used similar to rice. It also can be used in place of rice in something like stir fry,” she said. “Edamame is another easy source of protein you can incorporate into meals or snacks. You can find it in your grocer’s freezer section, or consider trying the dried, roasted version. This can be used in place of nuts if you’re seeking a lower fat snack,” Pierce added.
Ultimately, Pierce says many will find it hard to swear off meat completely, but just trying it one night a week can have lots of benefits. “We don’t have to be vegetarian per se,” she said. “I would just encourage people to try something new and entertain the notion of a plant-based meal at least once per week,” she added.