Men and meat. The relationship dates back to the stone age, when males hunted for food. Meat has long been associated with strength and masculinity and still today, the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reveals that men eat 57% more meat than women do. While there’s no doubt meat is a good source of protein and provides important nutrients like iron, zinc, vitamins B6, B12, niacin and riboflavin, it is also associated with an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and death. One long-term observational study (over 20 years) found that just one daily serving of unprocessed red meat over the course of the study was associated with a 13% higher risk of death. Worse yet, a daily serving of processed red meat was associated with a 20% higher risk. Despite mounting evidence of the dangers of excessive meat-eating, many men still consider meat to be both a source of strength and power, and think they need it in order to get enough protein. The truth is, Americans regularly eat more than enough protein and obtaining enough protein from a plant-based diet is easier than you may think. And even better, you don’t have to go cold turkey to reap the health benefits of eating less meat. Simply reducing the amount of meat in your diet and shifting towards a more whole food plant-based diet (one that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes and nuts) can improve your health and lower your risk of the diseases mentioned above. Here are some tips on how to do so:
- Meatless Mondays: Start small by declaring one day a week meatless. Buy a vegetarian plant-based cookbook and use that day to try new meatless recipes or just enjoy meatless dishes you already enjoy (i.e. vegetarian chili). Pretty soon you may find you’re going meatless more than just on Mondays.
- Think Whole Foods: Whole plant foods are natural foods that are unrefined and not heavily processed. Simply put- fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Aim for a wide range of colorful, whole, plant foods to help meet all of your nutritional needs.
- Substitute: Instead of just eliminating the steak from your dinner, try to substitute a plant-based protein such as a legume (beans, peas, peanuts, lentils and soy-based foods such as tofu, (which are also rich in fiber and will help to fill you up). Burgers, sausage and other meatless substitutes are also widely available.
- Make Meat the Side Dish: When your meal does include meat, don’t overindulge. Choose lean cuts and keep portions to no more than 3 ounces (it should take up no more than ¼ of your plate). Fill the rest of your plate with whole grains, vegetables and fruits.
Remember, to enjoy the health benefits of eating less meat it doesn’t mean you have to go vegan or vegetarian (unless you want to!). The term “flexitarian” has been coined to describe someone who eats mostly plant-based foods, but occasionally eats meat, poultry and fish. That kind of healthy eating is central to the Mediterranean diet, which limits red meat and emphasizes fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and healthy fats, and has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions.
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(2) It’s time to try meatless meals. (2020, August 20). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/meatless-meals/art-20048193
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(4) Publishing, H. H. (n.d.). What’s the beef with red meat? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/whats-the-beef-with-red-meat
(5) Risk in Red Meat? (2015, July 02). Retrieved from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/risk-red-meat
(6) Ryan, M. (n.d.). Going Meatless Once a Week. Retrieved from https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/vegetarian-and-special-diets/going-meatless-once-a-week
(7) Zhong, V. W., Horn, L. V., Greenland, P., Carnethon, M. R., Ning, H., Wilkins, J. T., . . . Allen, N. B. (2020). Associations of Processed Meat, Unprocessed Red Meat, Poultry, or Fish Intake With Incident Cardiovascular Disease and All-Cause Mortality. JAMA Internal Medicine, 180(4), 503. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.6969