Whether it’s the Mediterranean diet, meatless Mondays, or “flexitarianism,” you’ve probably seen a lot of recent buzz about reducing meat consumption. The many health, lifestyle, and environmental benefits of veganism are excitingly accessible to those of us who don’t want to give up smoked salmon--we only need to eat a little less meat and put a greater emphasis on whole foods in our diets.
I myself have followed a reduced-meat diet since college when I briefly lived with a houseful of vegetarians. Growing up meat was the centerpiece of every meal, and the salad and vegetables served with it were delicious but standard, easily taking a back seat. Until I cooked and ate with my vegetarian housemates, I had no idea that a plant-based diet could be so varied, filling, and healthy.
Reducing meat consumption looks different for everyone. Many families go meat-free one or two days per week, while others shift their everyday diet to be more Mediterranean. My own diet follows two rules: At a restaurant, I try to choose from the vegetarian options first, and I don’t buy meat at the grocery store (I do eat meat at home when it’s my partner’s turn to do the shopping).
If you’re ready to start cutting some meat out of your diet, the easiest way to ease into it is by challenging yourself to make a single meat-free dinner. Eventually, you can expand that out to a day, or a meat-free shopping trip. Take a look at our guide to plant-based protein if that is a concern for you, and try a delicious vegetarian recipe like our Mega-Nutritious Salad or Summery Bell Pepper Pasta.
The benefits of reducing meat intake are many, and I’ve written about the most impactful benefits of eating less meat and more vegetables below. Whatever rules and changes you decide work for you, stick to them! Habits are hard to break, but with consistency, you can redefine your diet and lifestyle to achieve greater health.
More Complete Nutrition
You can only fit so much on your plate and in your belly, so when meat takes up a large part of every meal you miss out on the complete nutrition possible in a more varied diet. Vegetables are chock-full of the vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients that your body needs, and by dedicating more of your plate to a diverse set of vegetables you move closer to total health.
Try New + Delicious Foods
Since I started eating less meat, I’ve discovered three of my favorite foods (nutritional yeast, roast butternut squash, and daal) and a whole host of new, exciting dishes. I enjoy trying new recipes, and I’ve found that the foods I make because of my reduced-meat diet (like a tomato sandwich instead of turkey) are often more delicious than the original.
Common wisdom purports that vegetarians are typically slimmer than non-vegetarians, and there is some truth to that. Restrictive diets like vegetarianism, veganism, paleo, and keto typically lead people to make more food from scratch and snack less, which decreases daily calorie intake and reduces dependence on unhealthy processed foods. A simple decision to eat less meat can bring much of that same benefit without much restriction.
Lower Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Red meat contains higher proportions of solid fat than any other food, which can raise cholesterol and cause cardiovascular problems. Reducing red meat is the single best protection you can take--besides exercise--to mitigate your risk of heart attacks and heart disease.
Longer Life Expectancy
A recent study found that Americans who decrease their meat intake by just 10% enjoy a decreased mortality rate and decreased risk of cardiovascular death, while Americans increasing their protein intake from plant sources by just 3% see even bigger health benefits.
No matter your current financial situation, the savings from putting less meat in your shopping cart are attractive. The staples of plant-based meals are all delightfully inexpensive, and making an effort to shop in-season produce will give you another financial boon as well as a nutritional one.
Better for the Environment
Our livestock takes up vast swathes of Earth’s available space, and that amount is growing by the day--much of the deforestation in the Amazon occurs to clear land for cattle. In addition to a big global footprint, livestock also has a big carbon footprint. Emissions from the cattle industry--and the cattle themselves--are a big contributor to greenhouse gases, and cutting down on animal products in your diet can do a lot to improve your household’s environmental impact.