The Midwest is Meat Country
The Midwest is commonly referred to as a meat and potatoes type of place. It is very normal to grow up here and have every meal centered on what chunk of animal protein is on the plate. However, as the environmental and health impact of eating meat at every meal has come into question, more and more people are trying to begin a plant-based diet, and reduce the amount of meat being eaten on a weekly basis. All in all, this is a good thing. Generally speaking, incorporating more plants into your diet is only going to yield positive results. Things like the 800 gram challenge are a great way to begin on this journey. However, it does leave a big question – if you reduce meat intake, how do you eat enough protein? Especially if you care about the quality of your workouts, this question matters to you a lot.
Why protein matters:
Keeping this short and sweet, you care about protein intake because if you do not meet minimum protein requirements, you will die. Plain and simple. Protein is not a nutrient like carbohydrates which can be removed from your diet and you survive. You literally need it to function. So get enough of it. The USDA says that a standard 2,000 calorie diet for a woman needs to contain 46 grams of protein, and a man needs 56 grams of protein. This is for survival. If you are physically active, you’re going to need to greatly increase that number (and frankly, if you want to look, feel, and function your best, you’re going to need at least two times that amount – minimum).
Got it – eat protein. But without meat, how?
You may be choosing to reduce your meat intake for any number of reasons:
- Ethically you don’t wish to consume animal products
- You want to make a positive environmental impact
- You don’t like the taste
- You want to include more plants in your diet
- Meat makes you feel bad after eating it
Whatever your reason is, you need to address how you’re going to keep protein levels where they need to be if you’re going to replace meat protein with other options. The rest of this article will outline three ways to still eat enough protein, even without animal meat.
If you are eating dairy:
If you are starting a vegan lifestyle, or even multiple vegan days per week, you can skip this section. However, for those of you who will include animal products but not animal meat, dairy is a great place to begin. Greek yogurt, Icelandic skyr, and ultra-filtered milk all contain at least 13 grams of protein per serving. Here are a few ways to use them at various meals and snacks:
- For breakfast, mix 1 cup of skyr or Greek yogurt with fresh berries and nut butter for a breakfast of approximately 30 grams of protein
- Rather than including grilled chicken with a burrito bowl for lunch, create a buddha bowl and make a curry-spiced yogurt topping for dipping vegetables and mixing with grains
- For dessert, instead of reaching for ice cream or any other sweet, pour a glass of ultra-filtered milk. You’ll get a sweet kick without any added sugar, zero lactose, and a full serving of protein, as well.
No dairy, no problem:
If you are looking to cut out animal meat and dairy entirely, you certainly need to be more attentive to what you’re eating. The challenge becomes finding a complete protein (aka one with all nine essential amino acids) – but challenges are made to be overcome and here are a few options:
- Tofu and seitan. Both of these meat substitutes have a high protein content and are excellent sources of protein in your diet.
- Incorporate beans and rice together into your meals. The combination of these two foods make a complete protein and will add a healthy dose of fiber to keep you feeling full.
- Prioritize ancient grains (quinoa, chia seeds, and amaranth, for example) as your carbohydrates. All of these pack a high amount of protein per serving and if you’re looking to eliminate meat and dairy can help you to still meet your protein goals.
What about snacks:
You need to be strategic with snacks in order to get enough protein in your diet while cutting out meat. The truth is supplements and prepared foods play a wonderful role as your go-to snack options. The focus of your diet should always be on whole, unprocessed foods. However, incorporating a protein-heavy supplement or snack is a good way to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need. Here are three different options:
- Plant Based Protein Powder – a few of the best brands for this include Vega, Care/Of, and Ladder. Simply follow package directions and mix with water or unsweetened almond milk for an easy, on-the-go snack.
- RXBAR – these are a staple in many healthy diets and include 12 grams of protein per bar, as well as a serving of healthy fat and an average of 25 grams of carbohydrates. RXBARs are only made with whole ingredients so you don’t have to worry about strange sweeteners and sugar alcohols either.
- Collagen peptides – while these contain animal product, collagen peptides do not have any meat byproduct and are a gut-friendly way to change up from the standard whey protein. Mix with any of your favorite beverages, as these are odorless and tasteless, for a complete protein snack.
You don’t have to eat meat to get enough protein.
Whatever reason you have for reducing your animal meat intake, don’t let protein consumption be a reason to stress. With a little bit of planning and focus you can absolutely get adequate amounts of protein on a plant-based diet.