Going meat-free is a fantastic choice to improve your health, lower your budget, make a tremendous environmental impact, and the best part—it’s cruelty-free! However, when you go meat-free, there are some things you should keep in mind so you can be sure to get important nutrients you need to stay healthy. While meat itself wears no health halo, it is a dense source of certain nutrients. Though not the best source of these nutrients, many people rely on it heavily, and when they ditch meat they often forget that their body needs to get other whole food sources of the nutrients they once relied on meat from.
Meat-free living means more energy, less risk for disease, better digestion, and a lean body mass. It can also improve your skin, overall aging, and doesn’t require deprivation. If you’re looking to eat a meat-free diet, here are some foods to stock up on at the store to stay healthy, get plenty of nutrition, and satisfaction while enjoying a healthier heart, leaner figure, and tons more energy to boot!
Protein: Choose Whole Foods
Since most people are concerned with protein in a meatless diet, let’s tackle this macro-nutrient first. You can get protein from many foods—here are 25— that give your body all the amino acids it needs to stay healthy. Don’t worry about being hungry either; whole foods are just as satisfying and come with the added benefits of fiber and blood-sugar stabilizing nutrients such as magnesium. Meat also raises your blood sugar, so plant-based sources help reduce insulin levels, optimizing your blood sugar and satisfaction after meals. See our complete guide to protein and remember to always stick to whole foods over processed bars and highly processed veggie burgers that have unhealthy ingredients such as GMOs.
Zinc: Choose Nuts, Seeds, and Grains
Zinc is also found in meat and a very important nutrient for blood sugar, skin, digestion, and immune health. It also optimizes hormones in the body promoting lean body mass and healthy hormone levels overall. However, not all plant-based options offer high doses. Some foods that do are nuts, seeds, and grains. Specifically, almonds, hemp, chia, pumpkin seeds, cacao (technically a bean), oats and quinoa. Eat some (or all) of these foods daily here and there; just a sprinkle throughout all your meals (or a lovely piece of dark chocolate) is a great way to add more zinc to your day. You can also take a zinc supplement if that’s your preference, but choose Opti-Zinc or Zinc Picolinate, two forms that are best absorbed in the body.
Iron: Seeds, Cacao, Greens, Pseudograins, Oats, Beans, and Legumes
This nutrient is found abundantly in chia, hemp, and pumpkin seeds, along with spinach, kale, and spirulina. Iron is important for red blood cell formation in the body, energy, a healthy metabolism, and can also help with your mood health. Though meat is a top source of heme iron (the form that’s easier to absorb), pairing plant-based sources with vitamin C (found in all fruits and vegetables) is an easy way to improve your uptake of non-heme iron. Oats and pseudograins like quinoa, teff, and amaranth are great options if you’re looking for healthy carbs, and pumpkin and cacao are two other foods that are also incredibly high in iron, as is cocoa powder (15-30 percent in 2 tablespoons). Beans and legumes are also a good source if you enjoy them, with lentils, black beans, soybeans, tofu, and tempeh being some of the best.
B vitamins: Almost All Plant-Based Foods
Meat is also very high in B vitamins, but so are plant-based foods. Even foods like nutritional yeast, spirulina, and other forms of blue green algae contain vitamin B12 (though you should still take a supplement, even if you eat meat for assurance your body is absorbing it efficiently). B vitamins such as B2, B3, B5, B6, and B9 are found abundantly in plant-based foods and contribute to healthy skin, hair, energy levels, stress management, and brain health. Some of the best sources are chia, spinach, bananas, almonds, beans, legumes, oats, nutritional yeast, algae, raisins, figs, and hemp seeds.
These are the top nutrients that you’ll need to pay attention to when you give up meat, but as you can see, it’s quite the easy (and enjoyable!) process. Implement these foods into your day and you’ll see benefits in no time. Remember, don’t make things hard; healthy plant-based diets are just a shopping trip away!
You can also see our 5-Step Guide to Eating Less Meat and Transforming Your Health for more information, tips, and delicious recipes.