Animal advocates and environmentalists aren’t the only groups encouraging plant-based diets these days. More and more physicians, nutritionists, and health coaches are endorsing a meatless menu.
Why should you eat less meat?
“A growing body of research links less meat consumption to overall better health,” says Liz Blike, a registered dietitian at Intermountain Healthcare’s LiVe Well Center in Park City, Utah. “From weight loss and lower cholesterol levels to better sleep and even reduced risk of cancer, plant-based diets have loads of proven health benefits.”
But for some of us, giving up meat cold turkey (excuse the pun), isn’t easy or realistic. Don’t worry, Liz says. Reducing your meat intake is sometimes easier than eliminating it altogether.
Tips for a plant-based diet
Here’s how to eat fewer animal products and increase your health.
- Never say never
- Wean yourself off
- Expand your horizons first
“If meat is part of your daily diet, and you really enjoy it, I don’t recommend swearing off it entirely,” Liz says. “You’ll feel deprived and resentful and go right back to a nightly steak on your plate.”
Instead, it might be wise to consider meat a treat and plan accordingly.
“I have a friend who claims she’s a vegetarian five days a week. She allows herself two days each week to eat meat, and she saves those days for something special. If she knows she’s going to a BBQ, or out to dinner with her husband, those will be her meat cheat days. It gives her something to look forward to and keeps her on track the rest of the week.”
Just like most people can’t go from smoking two packs a day to never having a cigarette again, committed carnivores should pace themselves. Liz recommends setting small goals, like committing to a Meatless Monday menu, and adding another meat-free day after a month or two.
For some, it might be more practical to start off with one meat-free meal each week and work up to a full day. Another option: lessen the legs over time. “Tell yourself you’ll only eat a four-legged animal once a week. Then go down to two legs and no legs if you’re able,” Liz suggests. “Some people have success cutting out red meat first, then pork, then poultry, and fish before becoming a successful vegetarian.”
So you’ve seen a documentary on slaughterhouses and decided that’s it — no more meat. That’s great, but this approach generally only works if you’re prepared to live off peanut butter and jelly.
“Give yourself time to change your diet,” Liz says. “Research and try new recipes, see what you like, and experiment with new vegetables and spices.”
Liz suggests experimenting with tofu, soy, nuts, tempeh, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, quinoa, black beans, green peas, and lentils. These plant-based foods are loaded with protein. They’re also a staple at many vegetarian restaurants.
“If you’d like to give up meat, but worry you’ll sacrifice flavor, check out an Indian or Asian restaurant and get a taste for how they make meat-free delicious,” she says. “Allowing yourself to experience all these new flavors and textures will take your attention off of what’s missing from your plate and shift it to what’s new and interesting.”
Looking for more motivation to go meatless?
Consider this: A meat-free or reduced meat diet doesn’t just improve your health, it’s also better for the planet. Animals like cows, pigs, and lambs generate large amounts of greenhouse gases, toxic manure, and wastewater that pollutes groundwater, rivers, streams, and, ultimately, the ocean. Raising these animals also requires pesticides, chemical fertilizer, fuel, feed, and water. In fact, studies show if Americans gave up meat just one day a week, it would be equivalent to taking over 7 million cars off the road!
The benefits of eating less meat go on and on, so consider trying on a vegetarian diet to experience them for yourself.