It's 2017 and going meatless couldn't be easier.
You're not just stuffing your face with bland vegetables or trying to get full off bread (seriously, don't do this). With so many protein alternatives out there, cutting out things like chicken and seafood is a lot easier to manage.
"If you want to go meatless for animal welfare reasons, your motivation might be a little higher, but you want to do your research to ensure that you are getting the nutrition you need," says registered dietitian Desiree Nielsen, who is based in Vancouver. "Meatless diets can be insanely healthy… but being a junk food vegetarian will have you feeling sick."
Many studies have found health benefits to going meat-free. Research from Harvard University indicates vegetarianism can protect you against ailments like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Nielsen adds if you don't think a month is feasible or you want something more structured for the year, try going meatless once a week.
Below, Nielsen gives us seven tips on how to go meatless for a month (and again, you can start any month) and actually stick to it.
And above, we round up a list of tasty meat-free substitutes that won't even make you miss meat.
Set yourself actual goals:
Setting goals for yourself and figuring out why you want to go meatless will actually change the way you do it. "If you want to go meatless for health or the planet, I recommend taking it meal by meal," she says.
And more importantly, take time to plan things out.
"If you want to take three to six months to transition to a meatless life, you are more likely to make it stick. Forcing yourself to eat food you don’t like just because it’s meatless will probably send you heading back to baconville."
Know your substitutes:
Like we said before, don't just fill up on things like carbs. "I am a big fan of whole foods, so I love organic tofu and legumes. They can freak people out a bit, but once you figure out how to cook them, you realize how insanely versatile they are," Nielsen continues.
And these days, you can find just about anything from vegetarian sausages to ground "meat" to bacon to burgers. Just make sure you read the ingredient list to avoid overly-processed and flavour-enhanced products.
Getting used to it will be tough (in the beginning):
"Just like any dietary change, getting used to a new way of eating can be tough. Our eating habits are often very deeply ingrained so making this kind of change can feel uncomfortable," she says. Instead of panicking, take this time to embrace change.
Join a cooking class, try out a new cookbook or have a vegetarian cooking night with friends.
Don't just remove meat from your plate:
Nielsen says another challenge with going meat-free is figuring out how to eat a fulfilling meal.
"If all you do is remove the meat, it will feel like something is truly missing in your meals and they will be less satisfying. Always replace meat with a vegetarian protein source."
Don't feel undefeated if you have cravings:
If you have cravings or you just want to have a piece of meat, go for it.
"If you have cravings and you aren’t committed for ethical reasons, it might be better to indulge them in order to not give them power," she says. "Add a tiny bit of meat to an otherwise meatless meal. It won’t be the end of the world."
Sometimes cravings can be fulfilled with vegetarian proteins, too.
If you're obsessed with bacon for example — the taste, the texture, the smokiness — try an alternative like coconut bacon or fried tempeh.
Think about the benefits for the environment:
"Eating less meat is better for the planet, our bodies and our pockets. Everyone will have different motivations based on their values," she says.
One report from the Environmental Working Group found that if U.S. citizens went meat and cheese-free one day a week, it would have the same impact as taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
Don't forget about your missing nutrients:
Giving up meat means giving up the nutrients that come with it. If you're going vegetarian (still eating dairy), add more omega-3 rich seeds like chia, hemp and pumpkin to your diet.
"Vitamin B12 must be supplemented as it is only found in animal foods. If you consume beans and seeds regularly, you are probably fine for iron and zinc," she says.