There’s much talk about eating less meat as a part of a healthy diet. There is more public push for plant consumption, and multiple plant-based meat substitutions are on the market for those who desire a meat-like replacement for meat. Some of them are better for you than meat. While others are so highly processed, they are just a meat substitute. So what’s the push to decrease meat intake all about. One aspect is the impact that farming animals has on the environment. It generates a significant percentage of the greenhouse gases, which contributes to climate change. Another aspect is diets that are low in meat consumption are associated with a decrease risk of certain chronic diseases and cancers. Both sound like good reasons to at least decrease consumption. The questions then become how to ensure adequate protein consumption and decrease meat intake. Let’s get into it.
Consuming Adequate Protein While Decreasing Meat Intake
Protein in our diets can be obtained from plant and animal sources. Meat is not our only protein source. Good plant sources of proteins include grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes (beans). Proteins supply our bodies with the amino acids (protein building blocks). There are nine amino acids, called essential amino acids, that must be consumed in our diets. Animal sources of protein contain all 9 of those amino acids. Protein sources that contain all the essential amino acids are called complete proteins. Many plant sources of protein do not; however, eating a variety of plants ensures that all 9 amino acids are still consumed. With that, adequate protein consumption can most definitely be consumed on an all plant diet if one wishes to pursue that goal. Quinoa and soybeans are examples of complete plant protein sources. While combinations like whole grains plus legumes and whole grains plus nuts create complete plant protein sources.
Ways to Decrease Meat Consumption
- Shift away from red meats and processed meats. Red meat is muscle meat from mammals. Common animals from which red meat is derived are cows, pigs (yes, pork is red meat), and deer. According to the World Health Organization, processed meats have been transformed in a way that increases preservation or improves flavor. These processes include salting, curing, fermenting, and smoking, for examples. Hot dogs, bacon, lunch meat, sausage, and canned/jarred meat products are examples of processed meats.
- Look for lean poultry and seafood instead. Poultry should be skinless as the skin contains a significant amount of fat and calories. Replacing red meat and processed meat with poultry and seafood is a simple step in the right direction. It does not require too much effort. This step may look like replacing ground beef in your spaghetti with ground chicken or turkey.
- Try decreasing the number of meals during which you consume meat. While we are conditioned to think a meal is not a meal without meat, that’s not the case. Complete and wholesome meals can be created without meat products. This step may look like only consuming meat at dinner.
- Try decreasing the frequency in which you consume meat. This step may look like only eating meat over the weekend or also may look like step three.
- Try decreasing the portion of meat consumed at meals. This step may look like eating 2 ounces of meat instead of 4 ounces or 4 ounces instead of 8.
- Find meat substitutes. Not all meat substitutes are created equal. For example, there is a big difference between a veggie burger and a plant-based, highly processed substitute. Veggie burgers are composed of whole food formed into a patty. However, highly processed plant-based meat substitutes contain little to no whole food and are not as healthy for you as a whole-food veggie burger. There are multiple creative recipes online that can teach you how to use plants like nuts and beans as protein sources in place of meat.
Protein comes in both plant and animal forms. Plant forms are healthier for you as diets high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in meat consumption are associated with a decreased risk for several chronic diseases and certain cancers. Animal protein is associated with cholesterol and saturated fat intake which should be monitored and limited. There are multiple plant sources of protein and consuming a variety is key. Decreasing meat intake can be accomplished in a number of ways. It’s a matter of preference as to how to go about it. Start simple and slow. Eating is not supposed to be a stressful event. Instead, it should be a time to provide your body with high quality nutrients in manner that is satisfying. Discovering what you find satisfying is where the creativity and fun comes into eating.
JR & Erica