Whittling Away at Meat Consumption

January 28, 2014 in Cooking & Baking Hints, Health, Nutrition, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

This is the third in my little series on easily doable ideas for making lifetime changes. Easy changes in eating habits that lead to greater health pay back a lot for just a little.  The three are: (1. An Apple a Day – the big payoff for adding fruits and vegetables; 2. A Nutty Little Change benefits for including nuts in the diet; and 3. This week’s Whittling Away at Meat Consumption.

The trend toward more and more people adopting a flexitarian eating style (meat reduction) has gotten the attention of Big Food. The food processors are becoming more serious about what it means to their market share. They are working toward providing healthier alternatives with less meat; and of course, providing for their shareholders. I’ve written quite a bit about being a flexitarian and its benefits in the past; but today, I’m not going to spend much time on the plight of the food processors, but I want to focus on how this trend can benefit individuals.

Apparently, people are not thinking of themselves as being something called “flexitarians” but they are reducing the amount of meat they are consuming. Whether people call themselves flexitarians or not, they have become a market force to be reckoned with. Some of the reasons people are eating less meat include: the high prices of meat; the environmental impact of meat eating; animal welfare issues and the increasing recognition that eating large amounts of meat is not healthy.

The public is clearly getting a lot of information about eating less meat, and some of it seems to be getting through. A recent example is Michael J. Orlich, M.D., of Loma Linda University in California, who published a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study found lower risk of death being associated with those eating vegetarian diets; including pesco- vegetarians (fish eaters); vegans (no animal products); and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets (includes milk and eggs). It’s just another of the pieces of research that shows that people following plant-based diets and various forms of vegetarian diets have a lower risk of heart disease and other diseases that end life early.

When we look at nutritional epidemiology (the study of nutrition of populations) we’ve seen for decades that those who eat more fruits; vegetables; nuts and seeds; legumes, beans and peas; and whole grains have much less chronic disease and death from it. It doesn’t mean that eating meat is the main enemy; it’s likely that the healthier outcome is from the presence of the plant nutrients, not from a complete absence of animal foods.

We don’t really know the whole story of why meat-eaters suffer more risk that those who eat less meat, but the research is continuing to grow that supports eating more plant foods. Last year I reported on a study that discovered that meat may have harmful ingredients in its very makeup.  The problem might be the carnitine in meat, not just fat and cholesterol. It’s like a giant puzzle. We know that those who eat lots of plant foods have better health than the red meat eaters, but we don’t know for sure what is causing that outcome.

The more the public learns about the high quality non-meat sources of protein, prepared in good-tasting ways, the more we would expect it to become easier for them to reduce meat consumption. Many people have the idea that we get our protein from meat – animal products; but the fact is that we get good quality protein from plant sources as well.

The following are five little ideas to start a personal quest for reducing meat consumption:

  1. Eat your normal meat-containing meal. Cut your portion of meat down to an amount where you’re willing to start your meat eating reduction.  For example, if you frequently have 6 ounces of meat, try just having 3 or 4 ounces. After a few weeks, assess your situation; maybe you’ll decide to go even lower. Don’t forget to double up on your vegetables, or you may be hungry – you may need the volume to make up for at least some of those forsaken meat calories.
  2. Try making some stir fries, soups and casseroles. These meals lend themselves very well to reduced ounces of meat per serving. They also simultaneously increase veggies.
  3. Choose a day to go meatless. A meatless day a week may be a good place to start your reduction – for the environment or your waistline; either way, you will reap the benefits of moving away from too much meat. Your goal in the beginning may be only to move away from red meat. That’s an especially easy change. You can substitute chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, and/or cheese. But eventually, you may want to have a vegan day; you can get all the nutrients by using legumes, whole grains, mushrooms, and nuts. That doesn’t mean that you do it every day. Remember the goal is to decrease the intake of meat. Don’t forget mushrooms; mushrooms have more protein than most vegetables. They can be easily added to casseroles, soups and stir-fries to increase protein content, while decreasing calories. Even in the high meat eating part of the US where I live, you can find delicious portabella mushroom sandwiches and other meat alternatives.
  4. Be sure to remember to check the nutrition panel when considering processed meat alternative products. Some of them can be very high in sodium. Also, you may want to consider glancing at the ingredient list to get a feel of how highly processed any item is. You don’t need to buy highly processed meat alternative products as your only option for eating less meat. Consider old-fashioned beans and rice style dishes; peanut butter and jelly on whole grain bread; soufflés; and whole grain pasta with vegetables and a little cheese.
  5. Be creative with your own recipes and/or turn to cookbooks. My Healthy Vegetarian Plate is a good source, and there are many other ideas online.

In my August 14, 2012 piece, More Bad News for Red Meat I embraced the term ‘sparingly to refer to a wise approach to meat consumption.’ It doesn’t mean that you can never enjoy red meat again, but the evidence is, and more and more people are deciding, that it is wise to consider limiting both the frequency and amount of red meat that you consume. Whittling away at serving sizes and serving meat less frequently is a doable goal and well worth your serious and sustained effort.