Since the recent Harvard study, which found that red meat consumption is tied to an increased risk of death from heart disease and cancer, many people have asked me about giving up meat, or at least cutting back. The study, which tracked over 100,000 men and women for about three decades, found that replacing one serving of red meat with one serving of a different protein source was associated with a lower death risk: 7% lower for fish, 10% for beans, lentils and soy, 10% for low-fat dairy products, 14% for poultry, 14% for whole grains and 19% for nuts - pretty significant numbers.
Replacing red meat with poultry or salmon is pretty easy, but if you’re motivated to move towards a plant based diet, figuring out what to eat can be tricky, since most of us have been trained to build our meals around meat. But in reality, most of the foods we eat, or at least those we should be eating for optimal health, are plant-based. And that’s exactly how I constructed the eating plan in S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim. It includes four meals a day, each constructed as a puzzle with five pieces:
Produce (fruit at the breakfast and snack meals and veggies at the lunch and dinner meals)
Plant based fat and
Natural seasonings (herbs, spices, vinegar, citrus juice and zest, etc.)
In the book, the meals are listed according to the lean protein ingredient, which includes omnivore, as well as vegetarian and vegan options: dairy-based meals; egg-based meals; poultry-based meals; seafood-based meals; and vegan meals. So in each dairy-based meal, dairy is the only animal-derived ingredient, either milk, yogurt or cheese, combined with foods like berries (produce), oats (whole grain), sliced almonds (plant-based fat) and cinnamon (natural seasoning). In the egg, poultry and seafood-based meals, the only animal-derived ingredient is the egg, poultry or seafood, combined with the other ‘puzzle pieces’ as I call them, which are each plant based. And in the vegan meals, the lean protein also comes from plants, either beans, lentils or organic tofu or plant-based ‘dairy’ (e.g. soy or hemp milk, etc.).
But one of my favorite things about how I constructed the plan is that the lean protein options are easily swappable. For example, if a meal calls for dairy, egg, poultry or seafood and you’re trying to move toward a plant-based diet, you can swap the animal-derived protein for something like beans, lentils or soy milk and presto, now the meal is entirely plant based. That means all 100 recipes in the book can be made vegan, or you can go semi-vegan, by choosing lots of vegan meals throughout the week, as well as others that include whichever animal-derived proteins you do eat. Some of my clients eat only seafood and are otherwise vegan, others eat dairy and eggs, but not poultry or seafood. And some eat all of these, but choose to omit red meat, as I recommend in the book, based on research published long before the new Harvard study.
Here’s an example of a recipe from the book that can be made with various lean protein options:
S.A.S.S! Yourself Stir-Fry
Produce: ½ cup each red bell pepper, sliced into strips, chopped carrots, shredded purple cabbage and chopped onion
Whole grain: ½ cup cooked brown rice
Lean protein: 3 oz extra lean ground turkey, browned OR 3 oz broiled or grilled salmon OR ½ cup shelled edamame (cooked separately)
Plant based fat: 2 Tbsp sliced almonds
Natural seasoning: 1 Tbsp 100% orange or tangerine juice (preferably fresh squeezed), 1 Tbsp brown rice vinegar, ½ tsp fresh grated ginger, 2 Tbsp chopped scallions
In a small dish, whisk together the citrus juice, vinegar and ginger, then add the scallions. On the stovetop over medium heat, sauté the veggies in the ginger sauce until the peppers are slightly tender. Spread the brown rice on your dinner plate, top with the veggie mixture, then add your lean protein of choice and garnish with the sliced almonds.
This ‘5 piece puzzle’ meal strategy with swappable ingredients means that on taco night my hubby can eat chicken, I can choose black beans, and we can share the other ingredients, like grilled veggies, whole corn tortillas, and cilantro lime guacamole.
Even if you don’t want to commit to going vegan, eating ‘5 piece puzzle’ meals, and choosing vegan lean protein options just part-time, will result in a much healthier diet and a better balance of the nutrients your body needs. And if you want to apply the ‘puzzle principle’ to your own recipes, I included a DIY chapter in the book that shows you how to use the concept to create your own healthy, perfectly proportioned meals.
For recipes or meals you eat regularly, you can easily make them plant based. Just:
- Swap meat, poultry or seafood for beans, or lentils
- Trade eggs and some cheeses for extra firm organic tofu
- Use plant-based forms of ‘dairy’ like organic soy and hemp milk
- Exchange butter and some cheeses for extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds or natural nut and seed butters
It's healthy eating made easy – no counting, no complex charts or numbers, just clean, wholesome foods in delicious combinations that result in the best balance for losing weight, keeping it off and optimizing your health.