Curious about going vegetarian or vegan ... but dubious that you can stick with it? Giving up meat forever can feel like an impossible sacrifice because the standard American diet has long featured a hunk of meat in the center of the plate, with a few vegetables maybe scattered on the side as an afterthought. Baby-step your way into eating healthier with this easy plan that doubles as a beginner's guide to satisfying your nutrient needs, hunger and taste buds on a plant-based diet (you'll need to sign up for the GH+ club to gain full access). It focuses on what you gain: a world of new flavors and recipes, as well as these three other amazing upsides.
The Benefits of Going Meatless
Good for your body
“Research consistently shows that a diet rich in plants is associated with reducing risk of several chronic diseases,” says GH registered dietitian Stefani Sassos, R.D.N. A meatless diet can transform your health by lowering your risk of developing type-2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers; it can slow cognitive decline; and potentially boost fertility. Because “plant-based diet” is such a broad term, there is no clear answer as to whether going meatless automatically leads to healthy weight loss, but everything points to yes, according to nutritionist Wendy Bazilian, Dr.P.H., R.D.N. Vegetables are high in nutrients and low in calories, she explains. “Plus they have higher satiety, so you don’t have those energy highs and lows, and you don’t get as many cravings.” In one study, overweight and obese subjects who followed a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet (with no calorie restrictions) for six months lost an average of 26 pounds.
Good for your wallet
Falling in love with the produce aisle can have a positive impact on your bank account too. “Meat and animal-based products tend to be the most expensive items on the grocery bill; opting for plant-based proteins like legumes can help you stay on a budget,” says Sassos. One study in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition found that a plant-based diet can save as much as $750 a year.
Good for the planet
Even if you take the personal bennies out of the equation, meatless living still has a massive do-good impact. “When it comes to the environment, cutting out meat from your diet can significantly reduce your water footprint,” says Sassos. Producing a single pound of beef, for example, slurps up 1,800 gallons of H2O. Raising livestock also creates greenhouse gasses and is a leading cause of deforestation.
How the Challenge Works
The ultimate objective of this challenge is to show you how satisfying and delicious plant-based eating can be. Each day you will get a new goal that builds upon the one before and recipe suggestions for breakfast, lunch and dinner. By the end of the week, you will have a working grasp of how to satisfy your nutrient needs, appetite and cravings. You may also find it helpful to...
- Get a pal on board. Having good friends around is great for your health and can make it easier for you to adopt a new habit. Send a friend the GH+ club sign-up link and a message that says, "Let's do it together!"
- Get prepped. If you know the week is going to be busy, consider meal prepping a few dishes to keep you from reaching for a burger because it's convenient. Whether you're cooking dishes ahead or not, you'll likely be making more veggies than normal. The tools on our list of kitchen essentials for vegetarians will make meal prep easier.
- Get excited. Queso, lasagna, churro banana bites — flip through our favorite vegan recipes and you will be ready to get this meat-free week started! When you spot something that makes your mouth water, feel free to swap the recipe in for the challenge's suggested meals throughout the week.
7-Day Meatless Meals Challenge
Cathy Garrard is a senior editor with the Hearst Lifestyle group, creating bookazines and special interest publications for Good Housekeeping, Men’s Health, Prevention and Woman’s Day.