Musings on a "meatless March"

By Jane Sylvestre, RD - 3/2/2015


Why go Meatless?

This is the time of year when many people go meatless for religious reasons.  Others choose to go meatless as a way of trying to improve their health.  We also have a few patients who go meatless because eating meats can be a little more of a challenge post surgery. 

In the “Healthy People 2010 Report”, the U.S. Surgeon General recommends that Americans decrease their consumption of meat by 15% as an attempt to decrease their intake of saturated fat.  This works out to cutting meat out of the diet one day per week.  The benefits of eliminating meat include decreasing the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and stroke by reducing the intake of saturated fat which has a negative effect on LDL, or the “bad” cholesterol.  Cutting back on meat can also decrease the risk of certain cancers such as colon cancer and there is a decreased risk of obesity. 

If you don’t eat meat, what do you eat?  There are many non meat protein options.  Seafood counts as a non-meat.  Try cooking salmon, cod, halibut, tilapia or any other fish as a super healthy source of protein.  You can also try shrimp or scallops, but be sure not to overcook them as they can be become rubbery and more difficult to eat.  Tuna is always a very popular option.  It is ok to add a little mayonnaise (maybe use light) because this helps the tuna to be tolerated a little better by being moist. 

Dried beans and peas such as black beans, pinto beans, cannellini beans, chick peas and black eyed peas to name a few are starchy, but are still a great source of protein and highly recommended.  This includes hummus which is just ground chick peas with tahini, oil, and garlic and lemon juice. Try making your own; it is actually very easy to make. The beans and peas also provide the added benefit of fiber which can be a challenge to get enough of post surgery.  B&M beans are not the best option as they have a lot of added sugar increasing the caloric content.  Note- this group does not include sweet green peas which are counted as a starch and should be limited or avoided.

Dairy is an excellent source of protein as well.  Choose the fat free or low fat as an attempt to keep the saturated fat at bay.  Much of the fat in dairy is saturated which increases the bad cholesterol.  Good sources of dairy include low fat cheese sticks, Greek or lite yogurt, fat free feta, Alpine lace sliced Swiss, Cabot low fat habanera or pepper jack snack cheese.  Eggs count as a complete protein and make a great meal or snack option. 

All nuts & seeds are a great alternative to meats.  ¼ cup is equivalent to an ounce of meat in terms of protein.  Choose anything from cashews (I love raw cashews), almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pecans… They are all good.  You just need to make sure that you chew them super well.  Nuts provide a healthy source of fat which is good for your heart.  Be sure to watch your portions though since it is a good source of fat; it is also a high source of calories.  Natural peanut butter such as “Teddy” as an example can make a great accompaniment to apples (peeled of course because the skin is not tolerated well.) 

I did want to mention a couple of grains.  I get a lot of questions about quinoa.  Quinoa is actually a seed which is why it is a good source of protein.  It is a complete protein just like an egg with all the essential amino acids.  Quinoa is still a high source of carbohydrates and considered a grain so portions must be limited.    Quinoa is cooked just like rice, but does not tend to be as sticky as rice.  Most patients do well with quinoa, but I do have a few patients who do not tolerate the food.  Farro is another high protein starch which is healthy, but not tolerated as well.  Farro tends to be very sticky and difficult for our patients to eat. 

Soy, another protein option, comes in a variety of forms.  You can buy edamame as frozen, fresh or dry roasted. Walmart sells a great box of edamame in their frozen section that has the edamame in individual serving bags that you can just pop in the microwave.  Remember not to eat the pod; just the soybeans inside the pod.  You can get dry roasted edamame in small snack bags.  I have seen them at Job Lot (believe it or not) and the “healthy section” at Stop and Shop.  Soy can also be purchased in the form of soy protein burgers and other vegetarian products.  Tofu is always an option.  Patty at the front desk gave me a great recipe for Spicy Tofu.  


See below:  makes 4 cups and takes 30 minutes or less


Two 12 oz packages extra firm tofu, drained and patted dry, cut into 1/4 –inch cubes

2 TBSP. Siracha

2 TBSP seasoned rice vinegar

1 TBSP maple syrup

2 tsp. toasted sesame oil

4 green onions (scallions) thinly sliced (1/2 cup)


  1. Heat non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add half of the tofu cubes.  Cook 10-12 minutes or until cubes are golden, stirring occasionally.  Transfer tofu to plate, and repeat with remaining tofu.
  2. Stir together soy sauce, siracha, vinegar, maple syrup, sesame oil, and 2 TBSP. water in a small bowl.
  3. Return all tofu to pan and add the soy sauce mixture.  Bring to a simmer and cook 2-3 minutes or until most of liquid is absorbed.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in green onions.  Serve warm or chilled.


I hope all the above gives you some great ideas on how to make it through lent if you are Catholic or reduce your meat by having one meatless day per week.  Add variety to your diet and improve your health at the same time.  For more information of different protein options, please attend our support group on March 12th from 7-8 pm at our office.  As usual, feel free to e-mail me at anytime at

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