Eat a meat-based diet but would like to become a vegetarian? You have good reasons to make the switch: Plant-based eating helps not only your health but the health of the planet as well.
Meat's True Costs
The average American eats over 200 pounds of meat per year, which is more than three times the global average, according to Brian Kateman of the Reducetarian Foundation and editor of The Reducetarian Solution (TarcherPerigee).
For example, Kateman notes that it takes nearly 400 gallons of water to produce 1 kilogram of beef, making its water footprint 20 times larger than that of plant-based foods.
Water usage is only part of the problem.
"Producing a kilogram of protein from kidney beans required approximately 18 times less land, 10 times less water, nine times less fuel, 12 times less fertilizer and 10 times less pesticide in comparison to producing the same amount of protein from beef," says Kristie Middleton, author of Meat-Less (Da Capo).
Not surprisingly, plant-based foods have the lowest carbon footprint. It makes sense, since "plants are able to be eaten in their natural state and require less input or processing than animal products," notes Middleton.
Eating animals doesn't do you any favors, either.
"Meat consumption is associated with weight gain," Middleton says. In contrast, plant foods tend to be lower in fat and calories and higher in fiber, which is associated with a lower body mass index (BMI, a measure of obesity).†
Not on the vegan bandwagon yet? Take heart: Just reducing, as opposed to eliminating, the amount of animal-based foods you eat can improve the planet's prospects as well as your own well-being.
Kateman says that a reducetarian—a word he coined—is someone who deliberately and mindfully eats less meat (including red meat, poultry and seafood) while also consuming less dairy and fewer eggs, regardless of the degree of reduction or motivation for cutting back.
Reducetarians "play around with Meatless Mondays, veggie-heavy lunches, smaller protein portions, vegetarianism and veganism to see what works best for them," he says.
Reducetarians include vegans (who eat no animal products), vegetarians (no meat), flexitarian or mostly vegetarian (a small amount of meat), semi-vegetarian (some meat) and anyone else who reduces the number of animal foods in their diets.
Here are some simple steps to becoming a certified reducetarian.
Set Goals for Meat Reduction
For example, start by not eating meat for lunch if you're having it for dinner or only eat meat on the weekends. The key is to stick with foods you already love—just swap out the meat.
Choose a veggie burrito instead of a chicken burrito or vegetable curry instead of lamb curry. "When you have a craving for a specific meaty meal, put a spin on a plant-based version of it, like cauliflower wings instead of buffalo wings," suggests Kateman. And remember—guacamole and margaritas are vegan.
Check Out Options
Middleton recommends picking up cookbooks with plant-based recipes and checking out like-minded blogs to find and try new dishes. Also, try different restaurants; Middleton says Indian and Thai restaurants have lots of great-tasting plant-based options such as tofu and vegetable curry or spicy peanut noodles.
"The key is to do what feels right for you at your own pace, which will make it more sustainable," Middleton notes. Every meat meal you replace with a plant-based meal adds up to make a difference.
While change can be tough, Middleton says, it can be more fun—and youre more likely to succeed—if you have the support of friends and family. Perhaps you can even get someone to join you!
Make a Meatless Monday pact or commit to eating vegan whenever you're together. "This will increase your likelihood of success, plus your impact will be increased by the friends joining you on the journey," Middleton advises.
Two Reducetarians Explain Their Choices
Chelsea Allen, of Atlanta and Megan Kurtik of Baltimore have both eliminated meat from their diets except on certain occasions, like holidays, or when it's the only option available.
Allen says she began reducing meat in her diet in 2014.
"I was halfway through earning my degree in environmental studies, which eventually exposed me to enough overwhelming evidence that human consumption of meat was negatively impacting the environment that I had to quit," she explains.
Allen took it slow by cooking new recipes and eating less meat each week until she quit eating it entirely. "Eating out is less of a problem in a big city like Atlanta, where restaurant choices are endless, and any place is bound to have vegetarian options," she notes.
However, Allen did have problems with her family, who would ask how she would get her protein and even bought meat dishes and tried to get her to eat them. After she refused to eat meat for a few visits, she says they gave up.
Kurtik stopped eating meat for the same reasons as Allen.
"It wasn't really difficult, as it was a decision I feel strongly about. I understand that some go meatless as a fad or diet, but it meant more to be a part of something greater than that," she says, adding that the benefits include seeing her skin become clearer since she went meatless.
"I enjoy life and knowing that my life isn't negatively impacting others," Kurtik says.
†The information provided is not an endorsement of any product, and is intended for educational purposes only. NaturesPlus does not provide medical advice and does not offer diagnosis of any conditions. Current research on this topic is not conclusive and further research may be needed in order to prove the benefits described.
The conditions and symptoms described may be indicative of serious health problems, and therefore should be brought to the attention of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.