It all started with the revival of the trendy Mediterranean diet. After being named “the best diet” of 2019 by the U.S. News and World Reports, healthy eaters everywhere started looking for additional ways to cut down on meat consumption and approach their diets in a more mindful way.
There are many reasons why people might want to eat less meat; some believe it’s healthier, some are drawn to it because research has shown plant-based eating is best for the planet and the most sustainable way to live, others give up animal products and meat because of ethical reasons.
Today, eating less meat has become a hot topic in wellness, and with all the alternative products on the market living a low-meat or meat-free lifestyle is easier than ever.
Given the benefits of eating less meat, some people are left wondering if it's a good idea to quit meat, well, cold turkey. Here we’re diving into why you might want to eat less meat…
Why You *Might* Want to Eat Less Meat
The Health Benefits of Eating Less Meat
Data from the Oxford Vegetarian Study found that a low-to-no meat diet was correlated with lower risk of certain cancers, including colon cancer. The researchers found that people who ate this way found it easier to eat more vegetables and fruit than those who didn't, one major reason for the link.
Another study published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition found that sticking to a vegan or vegetarian diet could help boost the good bacteria in the gut; participants who didn't eat meat had higher levels of certain good bacteria than participants who did eat meat.
In addition, this research suggests that more plant-based diets are associated with improved insulin resistance and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, compared with more meat-heavy diets.
The Environmental Impacts of Eating Less Meat
There are actually many environmental impacts of eating less meat. For one, meat production requires large volumes of water, mainly to produce animal feed.
In most cases, Americans haven't considered the link between global warming and a cheeseburger, but the United Nations has. In February of this year, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a report which concluded that livestock contributes 18 percent to our global warming emissions. Based on a study by the University of Chicago, every meat eater produces 1.5 tons more greenhouse gas than a vegan per year. Comparatively, if you switched from a Camry to a Prius, you'd save a ton of greenhouse gasses every year.
It's projected that global meat production will double from what it was at the turn of the century by 2050, which will only increase greenhouse gas emissions. Eating less meat is one of the quickest ways to cut our greenhouse gas emissions.
The Budget Benefits of Eating Less Meat
You may also save money by eating less meat. A study in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition comparing diets with and without meat found the former costs nearly $750 more per year, and included fewer servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Fortunately, you don’t have to give up meat altogether to get some health improvements. You can start by cutting back the amount of meat on your plate at each meal, or eat meat in just one meal a day, for example. Here are some additional tips and tricks if you’re looking to eat less meat:
IMPASTIAMO's Tips & Tricks for Eating Less Meat
Start with Meatless Monday
This is the easiest way to dip your feet into the world of meatless cuisine. Rather than a total lifestyle reboot, this small change can make a huge difference. To take things up a notch, each Monday try a new recipe you’ve never done before. You may find any number of new favorites, and not even miss the meat!
Need some inspiration to get started? Why not try your hand at these Tacos de Coliflor, the perfect main course just in time for Cinco de Mayo.
Maybe you’re in the mood for some lighter fare? Check out this Mint & Pea soup for a twist on an old classic.
Try Tempeh or Tofu
You’re likely familiar with tofu, but let us introduce you to tofu’s less famous cousin: tempeh. While tofu in its original form is typically soft and bland, tempeh is chewy with a stronger flavor, usually described as earthy, nutty, or savory. In terms of nutrition, tempeh has more fiber, protein, and vitamins than tofu. Tempeh is also less processed, leading it to be considered healthier than tofu.
Although both of these meat alternatives are soy based, you’ll find that the uses of each vary considerably due to their unique properties. Find a recipe that speaks to you, or if you’re feeling adventurous, start experimenting in the kitchen to find your favorite way to prepare them.
Photo courtesy of Love & Lemons, Kimchi Brown Rice Bowls with grilled tempeh steaks.
Learn to Love Lentils
If you’re trying to eat less meat, but haven’t found any replacements you love yet, learn to love lentils! Full of protein, fiber, folate, and magnesium (to name only a few), this superfood deserves its own place on your plate. Getting enough protein is important if you’re learning to create a fully balanced diet with less or no meat. That’s where lentils come in. Look to the legume family, where you’ll find all sorts of variety for your nutritional needs, including beans, peas, peanuts, and fan favorite: lentils. You heard it in second grace, folks: beans (and legumes) ARE good for the heart! You don’t have to eat raw steak like a caveman to increase your red blood cell count, rather helping yourself to a hearty serving of lentils will do the trick!
Lentils have the ability to stand on their own as the star of the show, or can be used as a fantastic meat substitute in tacos, chili, pasta sauce— anywhere you would use ground beef/chicken/turkey.
IMPASTIAMO tip: Cook your lentils in low-sodium vegetable broth instead of water for a bigger flavor punch. And make extra to store in the freezer. When you need them, just thaw them and use just as you would fresh-cooked lentils.
Check out this post by Oh My Veggies, for 19 recipes that swap lentils for meat.
Find a Food Accountability Partner
Is there any coincidence that the words “meat” and “team” are made up of the same letters? Probably. But it’s always a great idea to have support and encouragement to help you work toward any goal! According to Signature Analytics,
“…when someone publicly shares their goals, they have around a 65% chance of success. However, having a specific accountability partner boosts that chance to 95%.”
Increase your success rate by finding an accountability partner who also has the same goal as you! This mutually beneficial relationship can help keep things interesting because you understand each others’ goals, and you can share recipes. Challenge a carnivorous friend to do Meatless Monday with you, or ask an already Meatless-Friend to guide you. No luck? Try Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc. There’s never been an easier time to find like-minded people!
No matter what your reason is for eating less meat, you may find that the longer you practice at it, the more benefits you discover. American and American-ized food relies heavily on meat products, but that’s not the case for many places around the world. Italians, in fact, eat far less meatballs than is suggested, and serve beans and other meatless fare at most meals. Other Middle Eastern countries flavor their dishes so skillfully that the meatless aspect is of absolutely no concern.
Intentionally focusing on eating less meat can expand your horizons and bring your culinary expertise to the flavors and cultures you might otherwise have never experienced.
For more ideas on sustainability in the kitchen, check out some of our recent posts:
pin me for later!