Author’s Note: None of this blog entry is devoted to any sort of moral argument over whether or not the animals are cared for in an ethical way. It is ONLY based on health benefits and environmental benefits. All people are different and we choose to eat differently, and I’m not arguing that everyone should eat semi-vegetarian, just that it’s an option and may be healthier.
I’m not really the type of girl who’s interested in labels. I’m not a flexitarian, a pescetarian, or a vegetarian, and I’m most certainly NOT vegan. I like meat a lot, and will eat even some of the meats that self-proclaimed “carnivores” won’t try. But I also love vegetables a heckuva lot more than some full-fledged vegetarians I know, so I don’t fit in that category either. I just love FOOD. But there are some definite benefits to having meatless meals at times, both to health and budget!
I work out six days a week, but only three of those days are weight training days. I prefer to eat lean meats on the days I work out harder, because the high levels of protein helps my muscles heal and keep me satiated. I generally prepare vegetarian meals on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays because those are lighter workout days, and I don’t need the protein as much. So what are the benefits of eating meatless a few days a week?
Veggies, legumes and whole grains are much less expensive per pound than meat. Don’t believe me? Just look at this massive haul of veggies I got for $28.75. Also, veggies, legumes and whole grains are chock full of fiber, and fiber helps you feel full! The price of ground beef alone has more than doubled in the last 10 years, and thus, I’ve been eating less and less beef over the years. I consider red meat “special occasion” food, and stick to less expensive white meats such as boneless skinless chicken breast and pork sirloin chops.
Reduced Cholesterol and Triglyceride Levels
While dietary cholesterol may or may not affect blood cholesterol (it varies per person), eating a diet consisting of less animal products means you’re consuming less saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, and fat in general (assuming your vegetarian meals don’t consist entirely of french fries cooked in trans fat then covered in cheese). The soluble fiber in legumes, whole grains, and some fruits and veggies can also help lower LDL (bad) blood cholesterol.
Reduced Risk for Diabetes and Colorectal Cancer
Remember that fiber stuff I was spouting about earlier? Fiber helps clean out your digestive tract and keeps you regular, which in turn leads to a reduced risk for colorectal cancer. Who doesn’t want to avoid cancer? A 2008 Harvard Study suggests that we’re not 100% sure that red meat causes colorectal cancer, but that there are compounds known to be possible carcinogens in red meat, so reducing it definitely wouldn’t hurt. Processed meats (those containing nitrates and nitrites like lunchmeats and cured meats like sausages and hams) pose an even higher risk, so consume those only occasionally. The World Cancer Research Fund suggests that eating 500g (1.1 lbs) or less in cooked weight of red meat will help reduce your risk for colorectal cancer.
Helps Maintain a Healthy Weight
That fiber stuff again, plus the dense distribution of nutrients in non-meat sources of food, help keep you fuller longer, which helps you eat less in the long run! Vegetarian foods are more filling, less calorie dense and generally lower in fat. You can eat a higher volume of food if you eat leafy greens and veggies than if you eat just meat.
Better for the Environment?
This one is still being researched, but it may be true. Raising livestock is being shown to put a strain on the environment, due to runoff of biological material, overuse of water and the greenhouse gases produced directly by the animals. But a study by Carnegie Mellon University (as referenced by the Washington Post) suggests that some vegetables have a much higher impact on greenhouse gases than expected.
Meat and potatoes can get boring after a while! A lot of cultures around the world eat a mostly vegetarian diet, and this can be a great way to explore both reducing your meat intake and the flavors of other parts of the world. Even The Hubs, who proclaims that salad is “food that food eats”, loves a VEGAN recipe because of its Ethiopian warm spices.
So how do you ease yourself into a more flexitarian diet?
- Start with eating meatless for just one day a week.
- Half the amount of meat in a recipe and replace the other half with meaty veggies like mushrooms or eggplant
- Experiment with spices: more flavor means you miss the meat less
- Try a new meat substitute like seitan or tempeh
- Simply eat a smaller portion of meat at dinner and replace it with cooked legumes
- Treat veggies like meat: grill or broil them to add a little char, which makes them feel like a more primal food
What do you think? Do you prefer to eat less meat, or will you plan to eat less for your health in the future? Let me know in the comments!