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Meatless meals: The benefits of eating less meat

November 2nd, 2010

By Mayo Clinic staff


It can be challenging to serve healthy meals on a budget, but with planning you can eat better for less. Many people save money by adding meatless meals to their weekly menus. Meatless meals are built around vegetables, beans and grains — instead of meat, which tends to be more expensive. Meatless meals also offer health benefits.



The health factor


A plant-based diet, which emphasizes fruits and vegetables, grains, beans and legumes, and nuts, is rich in fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. And people who eat only plant-based foods — aka, vegetarians — generally eat fewer calories and less fat, weigh less, and have lower cholesterol levels than do nonvegetarians.

Just eating less meat has a protective effect. A National Cancer Institute study of 500,000 people found that those who ate 4 ounces (114 grams) of red meat or more daily were 30 percent more likely to die of any cause over 10 years than were those who consumed less. Sausage, luncheon meats and other processed meats also increased the risk. Those who ate mostly poultry or fish had a lower risk of death.



How much protein do you need?


The fact is that most Americans get enough protein in their diets. Adults generally need 10 to 35 percent of their total daily calories to come from protein. Based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, this amounts to about 50 to 175 grams a day. Of course, you can get protein from sources other than meat — sources that are often less expensive. Take a look at these examples:

  • Eggs. A large egg has 6 grams of protein. At $2.16 for a dozen, a gram of protein from eggs costs 3 cents.
  • Milk. A glass of milk has about 8 grams of protein. At $2.60 a half-gallon, that’s a little more than 4 cents per gram of protein.
  • Cottage cheese. Many cheeses are high in fat, and high priced, but cottage cheese provides a healthier alternative. And at $2.50 a pound (0.5 kg), a gram of protein from cottage cheese costs a little less than 5 cents a gram.
  • Tofu. At $2.00 a pound (0.5 g), you pay just 6 cents for a gram of protein.


Try meatless meals once or twice a week

You don’t have to go cold turkey. Instead, try easing into meatless meals. Consider going meatless one day a week. If you don’t like the idea of a whole day without meat, start with a couple of meatless dinners each week. Plan meals that feature entrees you like that are typically meatless, such as lasagna, soup or pasta salad. Or try substituting the following protein-rich foods for meat in your favorite recipes:

  • Beans and legumes — great in casseroles and salads
  • Vegetarian refried beans — good substitute for meat in burritos and tacos
  • Tofu — perfect addition to stir-fry dishes


When meat is on the menu

When your meals include meat, don’t overindulge. A serving of protein should be no more than 3 ounces (85 grams) — or about the size of a deck of cards — and should take up no more than a fourth of your dinner plate. Vegetables and fruits should cover half your plate, with whole grains filling in the rest.



Flexing for your health


The term “flexitarian” has been coined to describe someone who eats mostly plant-based foods but occasionally eats meat, poultry and fish. That kind of healthy eating is the heart of the Mediterranean diet — which limits red meat and emphasizes fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and healthy fats — and has been shown to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions. Why not work on your flexibility and start reaping some healthy benefits?



Posted in Journey to Health


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