Friday, September 21, 2012

Becoming a "Lessmeatatarian"

Lessmeatatarian? Huh? I guess I would call myself one, in fact, although I've never heard it named before. What is it? Simply a person who eats less meat than is traditional here in the U.S.--a nation made up primarily of carnivores.

Why eat less meat? Here are my top three reasons:

1. Health
Consuming too much meat and too many animal products can have a negative impact on health. Animal products, unless they have been reduced in fat (think skim milk) are natural sources of saturated fat. Over-consumption of saturated fat increases the risk of high cholesterol, which in turn increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. The higher fat content of meats, when compared to vegetables and grains, also equates to more calories. So why were our meat-eating ancestors--think farmers and other manual laborers in the early 1900s--able to survive and stay thin on high fat diets including bacon, sausage, eggs, biscuits, gravy and lard? One HUGE difference: activity. Since we're not as active a population as we once were, what we're eating has a bigger impact on our health. Some of the healthiest, longest-living populations in the world eat primarily vegetarian diets.

2. Cost
No doubt about it--one of the costliest items you can add to your grocery cart is meat. Reducing the amount of meat you eat will certainly save you some dough. That's money you can turn around and spend on whole grains (one of the least costly items you can buy) and produce. Did you know a bag of brown rice costs less than $2.00 and serves 10? Boxes of whole grain pasta go for $1.00 at my grocery store almost all the time.

3. Feel better!
Watch this news video from ABC. Chef Angelo Sosa (major meat lover) tried the less meat approach for three days. What does he say after that? That he felt better. "Like I'm running on high-octane fuel." Could it be because he was taking in less fat? More vitamins and nutrients? Possibly both. Either way, who doesn't want to feel better?

Is full-on vegetarianism better? Not necessarily. Consuming some meat, in my book, is harmless--so you don't have to feel like you have to go all the way to reap some major benefits. Meat is a great source of complete protein, B12 and iron; and fish is a good source of omega-3s. Those nutrients are important! Needs can be met on a vegetarian diet too, or course, with some attention. To each their own. I do believe in a more plant-based diet and consume many a vegetarian meal. But I love, I mean LOVE, a great steak, a salmon fillet, my Dijon-Balsamic Glazed Pork Tenderloin and a variety of cheeses (I'm sure you've noticed I'm just about obsessed with goat cheese). I'm not about to give up meat completely and don't think you have to either! The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (MyPlate) also emphasize a diet rich in plant-based foods for optimal health.

Eating less meat is quite a change for many Americans. And the key to creating change is going about it slowly. Here are some ways you can start easing towards "lessmeatatarianism" if you're accustomed to the carnivorous lifestyle:

1. Try having a "Meatless Monday" meal. This has been a trend for about the last year promoting a more plant-based diet. If you can't go a whole day without meat, try at least one meal. You could build an entire Meatless Monday menu by selecting three of these recipes:

2. Double your veggies. If you reduce the amount of meat on your plate, you have to fill that space with something else, or else our brains tend to tell us that we're not satisfied. Fill it with veggies! Prepare two vegetables at dinner instead of just one. Use the Plate Method: fill 1/4 of your plate with meat, 1/4 with starch and 1/2 with vegetables.

3. Use "meaty" vegetables to replace half the meat in a dish. Mushrooms and beans are terrific replacements for meat because of there "meaty" texture. You'll cut half the fat and a lot of calories.

  • Chop mushrooms to replace half the meat in meat sauce
  • Use beans  to replace meat in chili and soups.
  • Grill Portobello mushrooms for meat and veggie skewers or to top off a smaller hamburger.
  • Layer eggplant and/or zucchini in between layers of lasagna.

4. Swap breakfast meats for filling, healthy fats. We all want a breakfast that will stick with us longer than an hour. But you don't have to have meat to do the trick! Instead of eggs, bacon or sausage try avocado, nuts, peanut butter or almond butter.

5. Switch to leaner meats and start cutting down. Still a little leery of the "less meat" way of life? Even if you switch to leaner meats and reduce your portion size to the recommended 3-ounce portion size per meal, you'll be doing yourself some favors. For many Americans, this is still an adjustment. If you can reduce your meat intake some, you'll still be your own version of a "lessmeatatarian" and healthier to boot.

Could you become a lessmeatatarian?

See the ABC news story here.