Should I become flexitarian? A simple action plan to eat less meat
In this blog you’ll find a simple action plan to eat less meat in a healthy way. The step-to-step roadmap allows you to keep up the diet. From eating smaller portions, to becoming flexitarian, pescotarian, vegetarian or vegan, I give you the science-backed options how to eat less meat and which ingredients are good and healthy meat replacements. And of course some great recipes that are simple, tasty and quick to make.
- Why eat less meat?
- Which meat should I eat less of?
- Should I become a flexitarian?
- Should I also eat less dairy?
- Will I consume enough protein when I eat less or no meat?
- Pitfalls you should avoid
- What are good meat replacers?
- Meal plan to eat less meat
Good that you are here, because eating less meat is very good for your personal health and for the planet. To ensure that there is enough food available and to ensure our health, we need to get less proteine from animal sources and more from vegetables and legumes (Sanchez-Sabate & Sabaté, 2019). Unfortunately, taste preferences, food traditions (like barbecue), and social norms influence our food choices. A metastudy on attitudes and behaviour towards meat shows that there is just a small minority is willing to dramatically decrease their meat consumption because of environmental reasons. It’s typical that this minority can be characterised as female environmental activitsts that are not vegetarian or vegan and live in Europe or Asia.
Consumers that are willing to eat less meat express an educational need in relation to nutrients and cooking methods (Sanchez-Sabate, Bandilla-Briones & Sabaté, 2019). They think that their personal choices have a footprint that is too small to impact the environment, or think that the meat industry causes only causes a small portion of global warming. Both are wrong, because by eating just 100 grams less meat per week than you do now and substituting it for legumes, already decreases the greenhouse gases that your diet causes with 7-10%. Why? Legumes have a 20 times smaller impact on the environment than meat.
I would say, just do it for your own personal health. McEnvoy, Temple & Woodside, who evaluated all published studies until 2012 about this subject, kept finding proof that a vegetarian diet or one with less meat significantly decreases the chance of diseases – especially cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
You should stay away from processed meat as much as possible. Processed meat is meat that is i.e. smoked, salted or dried or contains preservatives, like grounded, breaded, marinated or seasoned. Examples are all cold cuts, like salami, ham, chicken fillet, salami, bacon and pate, but also minced meat, sausages, schnitzel, frankfurters, seasoned fillet steaks, minced meat, beef burgers and chicken burgers.
You should eat no more that 300 grams of red meat per week. For red meat, many people think of roast beef or steak. It actually means all the meat that comes from mammals, like beef, sheep, pigs, goats and lambs. Meat that comes from poultry, like chicken or turkey, is called white meat. By eating less meat and/or substituting meat for legumes and nuts lowers your risk of various diseases.
A flexitarian person totally deletes meat from his or her diet for a specific day or days in the week. It’s their way to eat less meat. It’s not the only way. You could for instance also delete meat from a specific meal (like breakfast or lunch) or simply by eating smaller portions. Especially the last option is a good one, as it makes it easier to monitor and follow the rules/advice of the National Nutrition Center (see above).
Research of Li, Siriamornpun, Wahlqvist, Mann & Sinclair (2005) indicates that red meat of which the visible fat is cut off, doesn’t elevate your cholesterol level. Consumed saturated fat mainly comes from fried food, snacks and processed food. Red meat without the visible fat will not increase your risk of cardiovascular disease if you already omit fast food, fried snacks, oil, butter and processed food. So it would be smart to start with omitting fried food, snacks and processed food from your diet.
And what about eggs and dairy? And fish? Dairy isn’t that good for you either, but not that bad as meat (I already researched the scientific publications, the blog will follow soon). But a diet with fat fish isn’t worse or better that a diet with lean meat, because both diets have different good and bad effects on health (Markmann, Jespersen, Leth & Sandström, 1991
To make sure you consume enough protein, you need to replace meat with plant-based food. The amino acid from protein is important for cell growth, tissue repair and your overall health. Although plants do provide less protein per gram, it’s enough for providing the needed nutritional components. To illustrate, potatoes and brown rice contain the lowest protein level, but still consist of protein for 8-9%.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t go the same for vitamin B12. Although animal protein contains more B12 than plant-based food, we already do not consume enough of it. It’s because bacteria that produce this vitamin are killed by antibiotics and pesticides on the farm land and in the fodder. Still we need vitamin B12 for our nervous system and to create red blood cells. Luckily, the vitamin is added in crystal form to soy milk and vegan yoghurt and there are supplement pills for sale. Not a problem at all, because the artifical form is actually absorpt more easily by our bodies than the natural form, because it doesn’t need gall in the process.
Action plan to eat less meat – in 10 steps from an unhealthy to an extremely healthy diet.
- Avoid junkfood, cookies, candy and all fried food
Including pizza, muffins, chewing gum, chips, fries, fried vegetables, Chinese take out, etcetera.
- Avoid processed meat during breakfast and lunch
Including ham, chicken,turkey, sausages, pâté, etcetera.
- Avoid processed meat during diner time
Including hamburgers, sausages, minced meat, smoked chicken.
- Decrease your meat portions and cut off the visible fat
Ideal is 100 grams per person per meal, but slowly decrease the portions.
- Avoid consumption of processed food
Including breadsticks, instant soup, stock, surimi sticks, etcetera. Read what Heartandstroke.ca calls ultra processed food
- Avoid red meat and take one B12 supplement daily
Including pork and beef. B12 supplements in the form of pills or a portion of vegan dairy with added B12.
- Avoid all meat
Including chicken and turkey, etcetera.
- Avoid eggs and dairy
Including milk, ice cream, yoghurt, cooking cream, etcetera.
- Avoid fish
Including smoked salmon, grilled tuna, cod, calamari, etcetera.
- Avoid added oils at fats
Like olive oil, butter, sunflower oil, etcetera.
Everybody should take 1 t/m 5 to be able to follow the advice and delete and undo the negative effects of their diet. Do you want your diet to positively affect your health? Then follow steps 6 to 20 as well on the road to a totally plant-based wholefood diet.
Pitfalls of eating less meat
From studies from Wageningen Universiteit and the RIVM we know that more Dutch people say they eat less meat, but that the total consumed kilos of meat are barely decreased. This signals that people compensate unintentionally. For instance, when they delete meat from their dinner, they eat an extra sandwich with meat slices for lunch. And flexitarians allow themselves meat more often or bigger portions on the “good” days. So, keep an eye on your portions when you follow the upper steps to a healthier diet.
Ready-to-eat meat replacers or meat replacers from plastic, like falafel, vegetarian hamburgers or veggie balls are not healthy replacers for meat. They are also a form of ultra processed food: lots of salt, sugar, seasoning and condiments are added – like the condiment that is called (di-/mono-natrium)glutamate, yeast extract, Vetsin and E621. Those cause harm on the short term to people with bad gut flora and on the long term also to healthy people (research show neutral and bad results). What IS a good idea, is to make your own vegetarian hamburgers and falafels with the help of a food processor.
Which meat replacers are good for the environment?
The processes to create cultured meat or alternatives that look like meat from plants, algae or insects, make these options much less environmental-friendly as they seem. This is because the processing needs huge amounts of energy and produces much waste. According to Van der Weele, Feindt, van der Groot, van Mierlo & van Boekel (2019), we need strong societal coordination to make these innovations viable and actually change our meat culture. Legumes are the best alternative for meat, because they need no processing before use in the kitchen. The best alternatives for meat in order of the impact on our environment are:
- Minimally processed plant-based alternatives
- Insects as a whole
- Processed plant-based alternatives (2-3 times better than meat)
- Cheese, dairy and eggs
- Cultured meat
Which meat replacers are good for your health?
How you can replace meat in a healthy way? Just delete the meat and add an extra portion of the following:
- 75 grams of cooked legumes, like chickpeas, marrowfat peas, kidney beans, garden beans, lentils or other peas or beans
- 25 – 40 grams of nuts, seeds and pips
- 100 grams of tempeh or tofu
- 100 grams of fish
What really tastes like meat when baked or grilled, are mushrooms or eggplant. They don’t contain the same amount of protein as the upper options, but combined with extra other vegetables, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Theoretically, you could replace 85 grams of meat by 70 grams of cheese or 2 eggs, because it is better for your health. But know that dairy and eggs also have a significant negative effect on your health (blog will follow).
Create a healthy mealplan
Instead of meat, you can choose sandwich spread that is healthy (no sugar), but tasty. This is what I use on bread, knäckebröd or rice crackers:
- peanut butter (choose the Dutch version with the darkest color, it contains the least oil)
- hoummous without conservatives
- mash of grilled vegetables (bake fresh zuchini, eggplant and bell pepper or bake the contents of the Bonduell freezer package)
- mash of grilled or baked celeriac (use a (hand) blender)
- banana with coconut chips
- (soy) margarine with apple slices and cinnamon
Vegetarian and vegan dinners
- Mash and mix raw endive with cooked celeriac and add roasted pine nuts
- Brown rice with coconut milk and curry powder, cashew nuts and a selection of these vegetables: bok choy, Chinese cabbage, leek, onion, bean sprouts, bell pepper, zucchini, eggplant, scraped carrot
- Tacos with white beans, onion, corn, (chili) pepper, cumin and tomato paste
- Fresh ‘green soup’ – aka spinach zucchini soup, pumpkin soup, celeriac soup, bell pepper soup or tomato soup with bread
- Kale mash with a lick of Zaandammer mustard (as much kale as potato or more)
- Mash and mix cooked carrots, potatos and onions (as much carrot as potato and less onions)
- Parsnip, carrots and sweet potato from the oven, possibly with a salad or beans next to it.
- Lunch salad of a fresh lettuce (lettuce, iceberg lettuce, roman lettuce, etc.) with tomatoes, cucumber, a handful of pine or pumpkin seeds and mustard-dill sauce. For dinner you can supplement this with corn, a can of tuna or boiled eggs.
Hopefully this action plan to eat less meat gives you a basis for a meal plan. I also have added nice recipes on my Pinterest board that can help you out.
I wish you luck and would love to hear how this 10-step action plan works for you. And of course I would love it if you would share your recipes with me via Pinterest. Enjoy your meal(s)!
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