Our diet is equally a matter of instinct as a matter of personal choice. Quite often, instead of listening to our body, we read about what it needs and try to force it to feel that need. Anyone who has followed a diet or read about healthy eating has gone through this phase.
I support the idea that the human body needs animal fats and protein. Nevertheless, I don’t judge the people who choose a different path. I don’t judge those who don’t like meat or don’t consume it for some reason. Today I am going to give you some advice on how you can optimize your diet, if you don’t eat meat. I won’t use labels such as flexitarian, pescetarian, lacto-ovo-vegetarian etc. To start with, I don’t like it when people are labeled like this. There are several periods in my life when I stopped eating meat, for one reason or another. You will learn more about this in my second book when I finish writing it. I work with many people who have stopped eating meat, but still consume fish, eggs and dairy. I have noticed some common tendencies and mistakes in diet that are made, and since many of you keep trying to find what works best for them, in this post I am going to give you some tips.
1.People rely too heavily on dairy products
One of the main mistakes people make is to base their diet on dairy products. Feta, regular cheese and mozzarella become the basis of the food pyramid for many people who don’t consume meat. Quite often these are the people who can’t lose weight, feel bloated and seem to retain water.
Actually there are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, many people are lactose intolerant or can’t tolerate at least some dairy products. The ones best tolerated are yogurt, aged cheese and perhaps curds. Once again, it also depends on their quality. If we keep consuming something our body does not tolerate, it is like giving it small doses of poison every day. This leads to digestive issues and normally, if we consume foods that we do not tolerate, the integrity of the intestinal villi is disrupted as well and you probably know that these assist in the absorption of food. When their integrity is disrupted, we can’t absorb enough nutrients.
Secondly, the quality of dairy products is very important. Some feel a discomfort after they consume dairy products that they bought in the supermarket, but feel great, if they eat home-made dairy. I know perfectly well that not everyone makes their own yogurt or cheese. That is why most of the time we should aim to eat fewer dairy products, once or twice a day, and not rely on them as our main source of nutrients.
I have mentioned several times that it is also very important how the particular dairy product is made. For example, yogurt and feta are made by fermentation, while regular cheese is made by curdling. This influences the way the body absorbs and responds to food.
Thirdly, store-bought dairy normally does not contain enough nutrition and if we don’t supplement our diet with sufficient sources of fat and protein, they are definitely lacking. This in turn leads to lack of satiety, carbohydrate cravings and most of all sugar cravings. To put it simply, dairy products can’t form the basis of our diet and they don’t provide the necessary satiety. That is why people who don’t eat meat, but don’t have a well-balanced diet, rely too heavily on dried fruit and nuts.
2.Excessive consumption of raw nuts and healthy desserts
People who don’t eat meat usually consume too much raw nuts. They are tasty and healthy, but the amount you consume matters, especially is your goal is to lose fat.
The problem with raw nuts is that they are quite calorie-dense and are easy to overeat. When a person exercises, they need sufficient energy, but nevertheless we don’t eat just to get calories, but also to satisfy our taste buds, our senses, etc. There aren’t many people who can consume a very small amount of something that is very calorie-dense. We usually need volume in our food in order to feel satiety and satisfaction. If we reach for nuts throughout the day – as a mid-morning or an afternoon snack and of course some for dessert, after supper, we usually consume quite a bit of calories along with the rest of our food.
Raw nuts are a great fat source, but they are just a part of a healthy diet for a person who doesn’t eat meat, and should not come second after dairy.
3.An insufficient amount of legumes is consumed
Legumes are quite nutritious and are one of the main protein sources for those who don’t eat meat. I have noticed that every person comes to the idea of not eating meat by a different path. Many people have been through all kinds of diets and fear fat and carbohydrates and there comes a time when they decide to give up meat too. Here I would like to emphasize that the decision to stop eating meat should not be intended as a weight-loss method, but should only be made when you resent the idea of eating it. So, when you fear carbohydrates, you usually start skipping legumes, white and sweet potatoes, rice etc. What happens is that your diet becomes quite monotonous, you don’t feel satiety and besides, you don’t get enough fat and carbohydrates. You need to realize that your diet should support your health long-term. This is because the human body can withstand anything for a couple of months and sometimes even years, but only thanks to the reserves we have at the time. If you regularly deplete them, you can’t expect anything good to come out of this.
During the periods I didn’t eat meat, I tried different combinations and since I am physically active, it was important for me to “load” my body, so I wouldn’t lose my strength and endurance. I definitely noticed that combining legumes, starchy vegetables, vegetable oils and, of course, eggs and fish, can make up a very healthy diet without a loss of energy. Naturally, with the addition of vegetables in the form of salads or sautéed, as well as fresh fruit.
You know that one of the most frequently discussed problems for people who don’t eat or restrict meat is the lack of sufficient protein. That is why it is important to consume enough legumes and, of course, fish and eggs, if you eat them. Since different protein sources contain different proportions of amino acids, the meals should complement each other, i.e. each meal should be a compilation of different sources or at least your overall diet for the week should contain a combination of different foods and not be based on the same source.
For example rice has a limited amount of the amino acid lysine, but an abundant amount of tryptophan. If rice is combined with legumes, which contain less tryptophan, but more lysine, the two sources complement each other. You don’t need to know what proportions of amino acids different foods contain. As long as you strive to combine different sources, you will get most of the nutrients you need.
For me, some of the most underappreciated foods in the diet of people who don’t consume meat are chickpeas, beans and lentils. As I mentioned, they are quite nutritious and contain even a lot more protein. Many people say they get bloated when they eat legumes, but once again, what matters for me are the amounts and proportions. If you combine, for example, some sweet potato, chickpeas, avocado, seeds and sautéed vegetables (broccoli, mushrooms, peppers, carrots), this would be a filling meal which won’t lead to bloating.
As for fat sources, apart from fish and eggs, if you consume them, you can include more coconut products, avocado, raw nuts, seeds.
A nice addition to your food could be nutritional yeast. It not only makes food taste better, but is also a good source of vitamin B12, although this vitamin is mainly the product of bacterial fermentation and is found in substantial amounts in animal foods.
Eggs are very healthy and nutritious too and can be cooked in all kinds of ways. And I don’t mean just boiled or scrambled eggs etc. In my blog I have enough recipes which you can use to make brownie, pancakes, muffins or something savory to add variety to your diet and at the same time obtain sufficient nutrients.
If I were to sum up what the perfect plate would look like for those who don’t eat meat, there would be two versions. Maybe I could add a third one with dairy products, but I’ll leave it for another post.
Here are some of my plant based meals
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