Reducing meat consumption has many benefits, the most important being that plant-based foods offer more health benefits than meat. Other reasons to reduce your intake of meat include the positive impact it has on the environment, animal welfare, and on your budget.
When Tom and I changed our diet after his heart attack, we chose to reduce our meat consumption. The primary reason for doing so was because plant-based foods are more nutrient-dense and contain fewer of the saturated fats and cholesterol found in many sources of meat.
The more that we researched the more we learned about industrialized meat and the impact it has on our health, the environment, and animal welfare. This information gave us additional reasons to reduce our meat intake.
Reducing Meat Consumption and Your Health
The biggest problem with eating meat is the amount in which it is consumed. The average American eats more than 1/2 pound of meat per day. The more meat you consume, especially red meat, the greater the risk of high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
One reason for this may be that when you eat more meat, you push plant-based foods off of our plate. I know that in the past my family has been totally guilty of filling our plates with more meat than any other food.
According to Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules, “Vegetarians are notably healthier than carnivores and they live longer.” What about people like me who consider themselves “flexitarians”–people who eat meat a few times per week-? According to Pollan, people who eat meat a couple of times per week are just as healthy as vegetarians.
As I stated in My Journey to Clean Eating post, Tom and I do not identify with any particular diet. We choose to eat a diet made of mostly whole foods, and some foods that have been minimally processed. Our diet is closely related to the Mediterranean diet and we can be considered flexitarians.
Mediterranean Diet vs Western Diet
The Mediterranean diet has shown over and over again to protect against heart attack, stroke, many kinds of cancer, and helps to control blood pressure and cholesterol. It includes a high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, and whole grains. It also includes a low-to-moderate intake of dairy products and a low intake of meat.
In contrast, the typical Western diet includes high intakes of red meat, processed meat, pre-packaged foods, refined grains, and high-sugar drinks. Overconsumption of these foods can increase the risk of chronic illness and early death.
When you replace animal products with plants, you eat more micronutrients, healthier fats, and more fiber. You also consume fewer calories which protect against a host of chronic diseases. Since changing our diet, we eat meat a few times per week. We treat meat as a side dish or condiment and fill the rest of our plate with plant-based foods.
Meat Consumption and the Environment
In the book Food Matters, Michael Bittman states that 60 billion animals are raised each year for food. This equates to 10 animals for every human on earth. He also states that it takes about 10 times more energy to produce meat than plants.
Of course, the only way to produce the amount of meat being consumed is through factory farming. A recent study published in the journal Science found that more than 80% of farmland is used for livestock and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. The only way to change this is to decrease demand, which means, consuming less meat.
Because of the impact that factory farming has on our health, the environment, and animal welfare, we limit meat and try to purchase meat from local sources whenever possible. One source that we use is a nearby farmers market which is open every weekend April – November.
When shopping at the grocery store we purchase organic, grass-fed and free-range meat most of the time. Regardless of the type of meat you choose, animal products are usually more expensive than plant-based foods.
Meat Consumption and Protein
My daughter has been a vegetarian for 10 years. One of the biggest questions she gets asked is where her protein comes from. A great number of people equate meat and protein.
Of course, we need protein to live, but it’s not something we need to obsess over. The truth is most Americans eat too much protein. Research has shown that on average, Americans consume 1.5 times the amount of protein needed daily. This isn’t surprising considering the amount of meat Americans eat.
Plant-Based Protein Sources
While meat does provide a high amount of protein, there are plenty of other healthy sources of protein. Here are just a few excellent sources of plant-based proteins:
- Quinoa – Quinoa is a whole grain and provides 8-9 grams of complete protein per cooked cup. It is also a good source of fiber, iron, antioxidants, and magnesium. Quinoa can be used in salads, added to soups and stews, used in stuffed peppers, and swapped for rice.
- Green Peas – Green Peas contain 9 grams of protein per cooked cup. They contain 25% of your daily fiber, folate, magnesium, thiamine, and vitamin A, C, K, requirements. Green peas are great in stir-fry, soups, stews, and salads.
- Beans – Black, pinto, kidney, and most varieties of beans contain about 15 grams of protein per cooked cup. They are also excellent sources of fiber, iron, complex carbs, potassium, and magnesium. I put beans in everything! I love them in soups, salads, chili, eggs, tacos, and stuffed peppers.
- Lentils – Lentils provide about 18 grams of protein in a cooked cup. They also provide 50% of your recommended daily fiber intake. Lentils may also help reduce the risk of various diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. Lentils can be used in salads, soups, chilis, or as a side dish with olive oil and lemon.
Nuts, seeds, chickpeas, and broccoli are a few other awesome sources of plant-based protein.
We still enjoy meat but eat far less than we did in the past. We don’t miss it! In fact, we have discovered a love for so many spices, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables that we had never tried. We really enjoy experimenting and creating delicious food that highlights the natural flavors found in a variety of plant-based foods.
Reducing your meat consumption a few days per week will benefit your health, your budget, the environment, and animal welfare. Eating a variety of whole foods, mostly plant-based, will give you plenty of protein and have a positive impact on your health.
Bittman, M. (2009) Food Matters A Guide to Conscious Eating New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
Pollan M. (2009) Food Rules An Eaters Manual New York, NY: the Penguin Group
Harmon Jenkins, N. (2009) The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook New York, NY: Bantam Dell