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Published on December 28, 2015

Less Meat, Fewer Pounds?

December 28, 2015
man studying peppersCutting meat or animal products out of your diet may help you lose weight, but it’s just part of a total healthy lifestyle.

Nearly 16 million Americans are vegetarians who don’t eat any meat. About half of this group is vegan, and do not eat any animal products or by-products (including milk and eggs). What used to be a radical lifestyle is becoming more mainstream, with plenty of recipe books, websites and even restaurants to choose from.

Many people choose to become vegetarian or vegan because of ethical concerns about the treatment of animals. However, some vegetarians choose a meatless life because of health reasons. Cutting out red meat (and increasing how many fruits and vegetables you eat) has been shown to be good for your heart, reducing your risk of heart disease by about one-third. The increase in fiber also affects your risk for developing cancer. One study found that strict vegetarians have about half the cancer risk of meat eaters. On average, meat eaters have the highest body mass index—and vegans have the lowest.

Making the Switch

Before making any major changes to your diet, talk with your physician. If you have an underlying health condition, completely eliminating meat and/or animal products may not be the best option for you.

Don’t immediately drop all animal products from your diet. Start slowly, first cutting back on red meat, then completely removing it from your meals. Do the same thing with chicken, fish and other animal products. Just as important as cutting out meat is adding new plant foods to your meal rotation. Look for whole (as opposed to processed) foods, and find veggie-friendly recipes that expand your options.

Figure out good protein sources that taste delicious to you. If you’re vegetarian, don’t just rely on eggs and dairy for your protein—nuts, seeds, beans, legumes (such as soybeans or soy products) and whole grains are all excellent sources of protein.

Full Vegan, Full Nutrition

If you are considering going vegan, you may be at risk for not getting enough of certain nutrients, including vitamins B 12 and D, iron, calcium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. The good news is you don’t have to give up your vegan lifestyle to get these nutrients.

Make sure you look for foods fortified with B 12. Soy and rice beverages, breakfast cereals and meat substitutes may all be enriched with extra B 12. A daily supplement may also help boost your levels. No fermented soy product, leafy vegetable or seaweed is a reliable source of active B 12.

In addition to calcium-fortified foods, orange juice and apple juice are both similar in calcium content to milk. Orange juice is often also fortified with vitamin D.

Ground flaxseed, walnuts, canola oil, soy products and hemp seed-based beverages are all naturally rich in omega-3 fatty acids. If you are pregnant or nursing, talk with your physician about ways to increase your consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.


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