How to Cut Back on Animal Proteins

Protein is overrated.

With the (slow) death of low-carb fad diets and recent scientific discoveries about the role fats play in our good health, people are re-thinking how much protein they need and want to eat.

Yes, protein is a very important nutrient and provides a variety of health benefits, but more and more credible health agencies, organizations and experts are recommending that protein, as a percentage of your daily calories, should be your third-most important macronutrient behind carbohydrates and healthy fats.

Cutting back on animal products not only helps you spend more of your food budget on fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, but also helps reduce unhealthy ingredients in your diet and avoid adding extra pounds.

Serve smaller portions

Instead of serving meat-free meals, reduce portion sizes and put more effort into creating tastier and nutritious side dishes. Just because someone loves the taste of beef or chicken doesn’t mean they need a large serving. When people can fill up on a delicious multi-food meal, they won’t miss a few extra ounces of steak or turkey.

Aim for portion sizes no larger than the palm of your hand. People will finish a large glass of a drink rather than pour part of it down the sink and waste it, so you might be serving more each meal than you need. When serving milk, shoot for an 8 oz. glass instead of 12 oz. or 16 oz. serving.

Eat in Courses

One way to help your family enjoy smaller servings of beef, chicken, pork and other animal proteins is to serve your meal in courses. Having a salad or bowl of soup, along with something to drink before the main course arrives, starts the process of feeling full earlier.

After someone has eaten soup, salad bread and had a drink, they won’t be “starved” for a big piece of meat and lots of starchy potatoes and vegetables. Penn State researchers found that people who had soup before their main course ate 20 percent fewer calories at the meal.

Forget the “Main Dish” concept

If you serve a traditional meat-and-two sides meal (protein plus two vegetables), the animal protein you serve usually needs to be the star of the meal. To reduce the amount of meat people want, create stir-fries, stews, chilis, pastas and other dishes that add meat to main dish, rather than make protein the main dish. You’ll taste beef or pork or chicken most forkfuls, but won’t consume as much.

Choose healthier products

When you buy animal products, choose healthier versions, such as free-range eggs, organic meats and low-fat dairy products. Some research suggests that full-fat milk is actually a better weigh-loss choice than skim because it’s more satisfying and reduces cravings later.

Whichever animal products you choose, read labels to avoid artificial ingredients. Choose less-expensive cuts of beef, which contain less saturated fat, and learn how to cook these cuts low and slow for maximum tenderness and flavor.

Select healthier carbs

To make sure you make up for the iron and calcium you lose when cutting back on animal products, make sure to choose healthy, complex carbohydrates. Buy whole-grain pastas and breads rather than refined wheat versions. Choose sweet potatoes over white and brown rice over white. When it comes to vegetables, eat the colors of the rainbow for maximum health.

Watch your micronutrients

Make sure to get enough iron, vitamin D and calcium in your diet when you cut back on animal products. Iron-rich foods include soybeans, lentils, sesame seeds, garbanzo beans, lima beans, olives, navy beans, navy beans and Swiss chard.

To get more calcium, eat tofu, sardines sesame seeds, yogurt, collard greens, spinach and turnip, mustard and beet greens. Look for iron-fortified cereals and calcium-fortified orange juice. Vitamin D is not present in many foods – our body processes vitamin D from sunlight, using our skin (the body’s largest organ).

That’s why so many foods, especially cereals and dairy products, are fortified with vitamin D. To get more vitamin D in your diet, eat salmon, sardines, tuna and eggs. Talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement, based on your eating habits.