Expert Health Articles

Meatless Meals - The Power of Plant Proteins

Rachel SnyderRachel Snyder, RDN, LD

Registered Dietitian

Meatless meals or more commonly practiced as meatless Mondays, is the idea of going without meat for a day. The meatless Mondays campaign started in 2003 and has grown in popularity ever since. Choosing plant-based protein versus animal protein provides numerous health benefits, leaves more money in our wallets and creates a more sustainable food environment. In all respects, it doesn’t matter if it is a Monday, Saturday or multiple days throughout the week, when choosing to go meatless. Choosing to opt out of meat any day of the week and replacing animal protein with a plant-based protein is the main point around meatless Mondays. If consuming plant-based proteins is a new idea, the hope is that by participating in meatless Mondays, at least one day a week, individuals will begin taking a small step towards including more beneficial plant-based proteins into their diet.

Consuming plant-based protein doesn’t mean a person has to become a full-fledged vegetarian. Being flexible in protein options is key.  For example, The Mediterranean Diet consists of consuming mostly plant-based protein options with the occasional intake of fish, poultry and red meat. This diet yields similar health benefits as those who follow vegetarian diets. Plant-based protein includes food items such as beans, legumes and nuts along with soy products like tofu and whole grains. These options create a sense of satiety quickly, creating a long lasting feeling of fullness, promote digestive health and provide protection through their disease-protecting antioxidants. 

Benefits of consuming more plant-based proteins for prevention and reduction of chronic diseases:

  • Obesity: The high fiber and nutrient density of plant-based sources aid in healthy weight loss. The fiber content provides satiety with meals and a feeling of fullness lasting longer after a meal. This helps control portions needed to feel satisfied and reduces cravings between meals.
  • Heart Disease: Plant-based sources are low in saturated fat. Replacing meats high in saturated fat with plant-based sources may improve LDL levels, a risk factor for heart disease if too high. Soluble fiber found in foods like beans, oats and apples help reduce cholesterol levels and the variety of antioxidants in plant sources is protective against different factors that may lead to heart disease.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: Protein and high fiber content helps control blood sugar swings after consuming a meal or snack and helps control portions consumed by creating a feeling of satiety.
  • Hypertension: Fresh fruits, vegetables and beans are naturally low in sodium. They are also high in potassium and magnesium, two components that are essential in supporting a healthy blood pressure. Fresh, frozen or canned options with no salt added or in its own juice are all healthy options to consider.
  • Cancer: Guidelines for cancer prevention and survivorship focus on the addition of plant-based foods and the reduction of red and processed meats. The antioxidant content of plant-based foods is also protective against components that may contribute to cancer risk.

Incorporate more of the plant-based protein sources you are already consuming or get adventurous and try something new. Enjoy these changes and with each bite, remember all the nutritional benefits of plant-based proteins.