Over the years, many Americans have begun limiting their consumption of meat — or even removing it from their diet entirely. This push for meatless meals and plant-based eating has been propelled by the proven health benefits for our community and our environment. But is eating a strictly meatless diet actually necessary? The short answer is this: it’s all about moderation.
The Truth About Meat
There are plenty of studies that support the decision to limit your meat consumption in favor of other plant-based foods. Research shows us that the more meat we eat, the higher our risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and more. This is because red and processed meats metabolize into toxins that can damage our blood vessels and other important organs in the body.
However, meat contains essential nutrients like protein, which helps promote muscle growth. Luckily, eating meat is not the only way to get these nutrients. In fact, many plant-based foods are great sources of protein. When looking for meatless protein options, consider foods like lentils, beans, edamame, nuts and seeds. For plant-based variations of typical meat-based foods, you might also try Impossible™ Foods like the famous Impossible Burger — it may taste like meat, but it’s actually made from soy and potato proteins!
“All or Nothing” Dieting
Diets that encourage eating a majority of meat claim health benefits like increased energy, weight loss and blood sugar regulation. However, there is little scientific research to back up these claims. While meat-based diets like the carnivore diet — which involves eliminating plant-based foods and exclusively eating meat, fish and eggs — do provide some micronutrients, they lack important vitamins and minerals that come from fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
On the other hand, common plant-based diets like vegetarian, vegan and pescatarian meal plans come with their own health challenges. While these diets may be healthier in theory, it’s still possible to eat an unhealthy diet while still technically following a vegan or vegetarian meal plan. If you trade your meat intake for other less healthy options such as pasta, baked goods and sugary beverages, you still lack the important nutrients that come from eating fruits and vegetables.
The Benefits of a Balanced Diet
Luckily, the vast majority of Americans don’t need to choose between the numerous “all or nothing” eating styles. By simply reducing your meat intake and eating a balanced diet complete with colorful fruits and vegetables, you can ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs to stay healthy and well. Some proven health benefits of reduced meat consumption and increased fruit and vegetable intake include:
- Lower risk of heart disease: Harvard University researchers found that people who averaged eight-plus servings of fruits and vegetables a day were 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke, compared to those who had less than 1.5 daily servings.
- Vision value: A plant-based diet rich in pigments like lutein and zeaxanthin are thought to help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration. You can find these pigments in plenty of plant-based foods like carrots, spinach, kale, corn, squash, kiwi and grapes.
- Lower blood pressure: High blood pressure can put you at increased risk for heart disease and stroke — the two leading causes of death in the United States. Luckily, the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that a plant-forward diet loaded with fruits and vegetables can lower your blood pressure levels.
Incorporating plant-based foods into your diet doesn’t mean that you have to eat them exclusively. No matter which diet you follow, remember that balance is key — any healthy diet should include lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and healthy grains.
Get tips and learn more about plant-based eating by visiting the Lifestyle Medicine section of our website.
This article first appeared in the April 2020 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.