Eating more plant-based foods and less meat has never been easier or more urgent for our environment and health — but it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. A reduction approach may yield more sustainable results to get you on the lifetime path to healthier habits. As someone who specializes in nutrition at The Humane Society of the United States, I know that there are small steps individuals can take that help create a better world for both people and animals. A great place to start is by following the Three R’s of eating: “reducing” or “replacing” consumption of animal products, and “refining” our diets by choosing products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards.
With the holidays approaching, people will soon be thinking about New Year’s resolutions. One familiar resolution may be the need to make healthy changes in our diet. It seems like nearly every month new research emerges touting the health benefits of eating plant-based foods. In August, The Journal of the American Medical Association published research concluding that diets high in animal-based protein were associated with a higher risk of premature death and diets high in plant-based protein like nuts, legumes and beans, were associated with a lower risk of premature death.
Earlier this year, researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that enjoying a plant-based diet could add as many as four years to your life! While the benefits of eating more plant-based foods are compelling, for many, the idea of going cold turkey – or cold Tofurky – seems daunting. The great news is you don’t have to. Many people are taking a reduction approach, enjoying more plant-strong meals than ever before.
If that sounds like the right path for you, here are five simple tips for getting started.
Go Meatless At Least One Day A Week — And Know The Reason Why You're Doing It
Start out small and then add more meat-free meals as you see what works best for you. The American Heart Association supports “going meatless at a meal every now and then to reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.” Heart disease is the top killer of American men and women.
Not only are there tremendous health benefits to eating less meat, there are also enormous environmental impacts. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, producing two pounds of chicken meat uses 1,100 gallons of water, enough to fill about 25 bathtubs! According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the animal agriculture sector — which includes the production of feed crops, the manufacturing of fertilizer, and the shipment of meat, eggs, and milk — is responsible for 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, measured in carbon-dioxide equivalent.
Eating less meat also spares countless animals from a miserable life in inhumane factory farm conditions where many animals don’t even have enough room to stand up, lie down, turn around or extend their limbs. See how you feel not contributing to that even one day a week — and take it from there.
Make Simple Swaps
Think of a favorite meal then simply swap out the animal-based protein with a plant-based protein. Love burritos? Fill one up with vegetables and beans for a protein-packed and fiber-filled meal. Try pasta with pesto and roasted tomatoes instead of meatballs. Check out The Humane Society of the United States’ Guide to Meat-Free Meals for recipes like portobello sloppy joes, penne arrabbiata, and butternut squash soup. Hit your local library or online book store and pick up some new cookbooks for ideas and inspiration. You can also sign up here to receive a new Meatless Monday recipe in your inbox every week.
Use The "C.A.N" Approach
Dr. Brian Wansink of Cornell University developed the C.A.N. approach for achieving healthy eating goals: Make healthy foods Convenient, Attractive, and Normal. Wansink, who wrote Slim by Design, suggests making foods you should eat easy to access, attractive, and the obvious choice. Wash and cut colorful carrots or peppers and place them in a clear container with a tub of hummus in the fridge right at eye level. They’ll be the first thing you see when you go searching for a snack.
Eat Your Fiber
Flip your plate as the Culinary Institute of America and Harvard School of Public Health suggest: Dig into delectable vegetable, bean, and grain dishes and use meat sparingly, as a condiment or a side. It’s an easy way to cut back on cholesterol and fat while filling up on fiber, vitamins, and minerals and disease-fighting phytonutrients. Beans and other legumes are a great source of protein and cholesterol-lowering fiber.
Start your day with fiber-rich blueberry corn muffins and lunch on spicy black bean soup or sweet potato gnocchi with sage butter. A diet high in fiber increases the feeling of fullness after meals and controls blood sugar spikes.
Remember That Everything’s Better With Friends
Inviting your friends and family to join you on your healthy eating journey can lead to greater success — in more ways than one. According to various studies, our eating habits are immensely influenced by our community.
Host Meatless Monday dinners in your home and invite friends and family to join. Assemble a group of friends to take part in a plant-based cooking class. Not only to does it open the door to the support and encouragement that will help you reach your healthy goals, but you’ll help instill beneficial eating habits in your loved ones.
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