It sometimes feels like an "all or nothing" decision to contemplate eating less meat and eating more plants. We already know that plant-based eating plans like the Mediterranean Diet have major health benefits, as proven in numerous studies.
We know that meat isn't without nutritional merit, giving us high quality protein, essential amino acids, and micronutrients or vitamins and minerals. And it tastes great for millions of meat lovers whose habits are well ingrained. Meat, however, is high in saturated fat, which drives up LDL or "bad" cholesterol in the bloodstream.
Now a small study from the University of Nottingham, U.K., takes a commonsense approach that's not too "radical." It says that (why didn't we think of this?) just cutting out half our pork, beef, lamb, veal, and processed meat consumption—smoked, cured, or preserved—can make a positive difference in our health. So there!
It really can help reduce our LDL and that in turn, automatically helps reduce the risk of heart disease. It's encouraging news for steak and burger lovers who may find the thought of going without their meat fix intolerable.
Just Say 'Half'
The new research, published by the University of Nottingham, also confirms that those study participants whose LDL was highest when the study started saw the most significant drop in LDL numbers, simply by reducing meat consumption by half. Specifically, the authors said in a statement, the "average drop" was about 10 percent in men, who generally started with the highest numbers and who also had the best results.
"Half" meant eating less over 12 weeks by choosing white meat, fish or meat substitutes, or by simply downsizing those red or processed meat portions. The 43 healthy participants, ages 21 to 48, recorded what they ate and underwent periodic blood tests.
"A strength of the current study was that the longitudinal study design allowed changes over time, within individuals, to be assessed," the authors wrote. Assessment visits for participants occurred in the morning, after fasting since midnight.
Study co-author Liz Simpson, MD. from the university's School of Life Sciences said that cutting out meat requires replacing it with other healthy foods, such as "a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, pulses, and whole grains."
Another author, Professor Andrew Salter, of the university's Future Food Beacon, said that "reducing the amount of red meat we eat is also important from a food security and sustainability perspective, as livestock production utilizes a large proportion of our natural resources and is a major contributor to greenhouse gas production."
How to Eat Less Meat
Again, don't let yourself feel overwhelmed as you contemplate less meat in your diet. Easy does this, as you "slide into" a routine that slowly reduces the amount of red and processed meat you consume.
Keep an open "meatless" mind. When you think "meatless" you should also think about beans, lentils, vegetables, and whole grains to fill in the gaps left by no meat. A plant-based diet also includes fruits and nuts, which obviously don't work in that meatless dinner casserole, but are fabulous fillers in between meals.
You can go "nuts." A brand new study in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health found that increasing daily consumption of nuts is associated with less long-term weight gain and a lower risk of obesity in adults. Oh, and it's a "handful" and not an entire bag, please.
Mix it up the meatless way. Why not test the meatless waters with a meatless dinner, starting with lasagna, soup or stew? Those bountiful beans, including white, northern, black, and pinto, along with legumes such as lentils that come in different colors, mix beautifully in casseroles. Try vegetarian, no-fat, refried beans in a taco or burrito, and add protein-rich tofu to your stir-fries. Don't be afraid to try some new flavor combos.
Go with the grain, not against it. As dietitians know, when it comes to whole grains, the sky's the limit. Try brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, bulgur, barley, and wheat berries, because there are so many delectable tastes in the grain family.
Forge bravely "beyond". You probably couldn't help but notice that your grocery store shelves contain items like Beyond Meat and Beyond Beef, and that your favorite fast-food chains also sport new meatless burgers that "look" just like the real thing, and taste pretty darn close. Last year, plant-based foods represented $4.5 billion dollars in the American marketplace, and the number's increasing.
Plant-based does not mean vegan, which means never eating animal-based products. Yes, you can still eat meat and eat a plant-based burger, too, because variety is the spice of a good culinary life. We haven't heard the last of "eat less meat," but now we have more options to help those of us who want to reduce meat consumption do just that for better overall health.