Scientists Say Replacing Meat With These Foods Can Spur Weight Loss

selection of legumes

Beans and legumes on a table |

Meat is a big part of the average American’s diet. The average American, perhaps not coincidentally, is overweight or obese. Certain types of red and processed meat are contributing factors to that. While meat does contain minerals and proteins that are essential to a healthy diet, it also contains large amounts of calories, fat, and cholesterol. This can be detrimental if your goal is weight loss.

Cutting meat out of your diet isn’t easy, either. Meals simply don’t seem the same to many people, and you’re often left feeling hungry again if you’re used to having some sort of meat on a daily basis. This makes weight loss particularly difficult. You’re hungry, probably stressed, and want a comforting meal. But that’s also the very thing you’re trying to avoid — a calorie-heavy and unhealthy meal.

This is one of many areas where people’s weight loss goals go off the rails. So, what can you do? A new study says there are some other foods that can deliver the same satiety as meat. That means that if you’re having trouble giving up meat, eating less of it, or have some sort of psychological dependence on it, there are certain foods that can help you stay on track. Those foods come from the legume family.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Copenhagen and published in the journal Food & Nutrition, found eating foods like beans and peas can deliver many of the physical and psychological benefits of meat, with a fraction of the fat and calories. This makes those foods, along with other legumes, a great alternative to those looking to lower their caloric intake or find something satiating.

Legumes: A satiating appetite suppressant

Beans, peas, and legumes

Beans, peas, and legumes — natural appetite suppressants |

“In the study, 43 young men were served three different meals in which patties — consisting of either beans/peas or veal/pork — were a key element,” a University of Copenhagen brief reads. “The study also demonstrated that when participants ate a protein-rich meal based on beans and peas, they consumed 12% fewer calories in their next meal than if they had eaten a meat-based meal.”

By swapping out meat options for high-protein legumes, people were able to eat fewer calories and feel just as satisfied after a meal. The reason? “The protein-rich meal composed of legumes contained significantly more fiber than the protein-rich meal of pork and veal, which probably contributed to the increased feeling of satiety,” said Professor Anne Raben of the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports.

This can be valuable for folks looking at weight loss strategies, or even just aiming for a more sustainable diet. Not to mention legumes are vastly cheaper than most meats — so, you might be able to save money and dodge calories simultaneously.

The study mentions beans and peas, specifically. Including those two, here are some legumes that may be viable options if you plan to try this method out.

1. Beans

White beans

White beans |

Beans, of course, are one of the two foods the study specifically points out. They come in a ton of varieties and can be used in a myriad of ways. Some types of beans, like black beans, are used to create meat substitutes, such burger patties. If you’re looking to eat less meat, loading up on beans (and trying different kinds) is a great place to start. Plus, they generally have a good amount of protein.

2. Peas

close-up of a bowl of frozen peas

Frozen peas |

Peas were the other food the study mentioned by name. Though they’re not something most people eat regularly, making peas a staple shouldn’t be too difficult if you can get creative with them. They’re also surprisingly high in protein and generally low in calories, too.

3. Lentils

Black lentils

Black lentils |

If you’re not familiar with lentils, now is the time to try them out. They’re cheap, easy to prepare, and deliver a solid nutritional punch. You can even buy in bulk and work your way through the tons of recipes that are out there. Lentils may also make a good alternative if you get sick of bean-based dishes.

4. Chickpeas/garbanzo beans

Chickpea soup

Chickpea soup |

Okay, okay. Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, may technically be a bean. But we’re giving them a separate entry. Chickpeas are used to make several foods, including hummus, which is exploding in popularity. If you’ve never given them a shot, try a new recipe and see how you like them.

5. Soybeans/tofu

Raw tofu

Raw tofu |

Soy is in just about everything. And there are tons of ways to use it, including as a good meat substitute. Tofu, which is made from soybeans, is as popular a meat alternative as there is. It can be cooked or eaten in any number of ways, and is fairly high in protein.

6. Falafel

Fresh falafel

Fresh falafel |

Falafel isn’t as readily available or popular as some of the other items on this list. It’s basically a combination of two legumes — most often fava beans and chickpeas. It’s fried (as seen above) and is a traditional Middle Eastern dish. If you like it, it may be a great way to move away from meat.

7. (Some) nuts

A bowl of peanuts

A bowl of peanuts |

It’s hard to find ways to turn nuts into meat substitutes, but we’re adding them to the list anyway. Some nuts, like almonds and peanuts, fit into the legume category. They can be used as appetite suppressants, appetizers, or even to make other foods. They contain protein, healthy fats, and make a fantastic snack.