A Simple 10-Point Action Plan to Cut Out Meat and Eat Healthier
For several years now, there’s been a growing trend in the UK to cut down on meat and generally eat healthier.
On one hand, it is perfectly possible to include animal-based products in a comprehensively healthy diet. Or to put it another way, just because you eat meat doesn’t automatically mean you have an unhealthy lifestyle.
But at the same time, it’s a proven fact that eating a disproportionate amount of meat (resulting in dietary imbalance) is not good for you. Given that this has traditionally been the lifestyle adopted by so many, the shift towards a more predominantly plant-based lifestyle can only be a good thing.
Still, making the decision to reduce meat consumption is not quite the same as doing it and making it stick. If you’re genuinely serious about making a positive lifestyle change for the benefit of yourself and for the planet, approaching the transition in a structured way comes highly recommended.
Why Eat Less Meat?
This is, of course, the million-dollar question. And it’s a question that has a different answer for pretty much every person looking to reduce meat consumption, at least in terms of personal motivations.
Choosing to reduce meat consumption for healthier living in general tends to be the primary motivation for most. Increasingly, many are citing the potential environmental implications of eating meat as a core factor in their decision to cut down.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be eating a ton of meat on a regular basis to be contributing to catastrophic environmental harm and irreparable climate change. Think of it this way - simply by reducing your consumption of meat by 100g per week (and eating healthy legumes instead), you immediately cut the total greenhouse gas emissions caused by your lifestyle by as much as 7% to 10%.
Meat production is estimated to have around 2,000% higher environmental implications than the cultivation of legumes, indicating just how big of a difference a small change can make.
Unsurprisingly, animal welfare is also a priority for many looking to become vegan or vegetarian. Irrespective of the extent to which producers claim to prioritise animal welfare, you’re still contributing to the brutal slaughter of billions of animals each year by supporting the trade.
Which Meats Should Be Avoided Altogether?
Quality meat has the potential to be a healthy source of protein. Eating more than 300g of red meat per week is not generally recommended by experts, but lean animal-based protein can be good for you in moderation.
By contrast, processed meat is something most experts recommend avoiding altogether. This covers a wide variety of everyday household staples, including sausages, bacon, ham, salami, canned meats, pates and so on. Basically, anything that’s not just high-quality meat in its natural form, having been treated and processed intensively before hitting the supermarket shelves.
Extensive studies have highlighted a potential link between the consumption (or overconsumption) of processed meats and an elevated risk of many diseases. Their nutritional value is also comparatively low, typically nowhere near enough to compensate for the synthetic additives that make their way into the mix.
Is it Better to Be a Flexitarian?
Whether or not it is ‘better’ to set your sights on becoming a flexitarian is entirely down to you to decide. If you genuinely cannot see yourself cutting out meat and animal products entirely, at least cutting down in some kind of structured or regimented way could be much better than nothing.
For example, some make a conscious decision to remove all meat from their meals on certain days of the week, or never consume meat at breakfast or lunch. Some omit red meats and processed foods from their diets altogether, instead focusing on healthier alternatives.
Again, far better for your health and that of the planet than continuing to eat copious quantities of meat on a regular basis.
What About Other Animal Products Like Fish and Dairy?
Moderation holds the key to a healthy diet that includes fish and dairy products. Few physicians tell their patients outright that they should immediately stop consuming milk, eggs, cheese, fish and seafood altogether. If they’re consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet, they can be perfectly good for you.
Nevertheless, there’s a widespread tendency to become too reliant on animal-based products in general. Too much of a good thing becomes anything but, when consuming most kinds of dairy products or seafood.
It’s therefore a case of taking an objective look at your lifestyle and dietary habits in general, in order to determine what you could be eating too much of and where healthy substitutions could be made.
10 Steps to Excluding Meat and Animal Products from Your Diet
First things first, the summarised 10-point action plan below will most certainly not be ideal for everyone. Depending on your motivations for cutting out meat and your current lifestyle habits, you may need to adopt an entirely different approach.
These guidelines simply illustrate how adopting a strategic and regimented approach to cutting out meat can make it far easier than making things up as you go along, with no specific goals or deadlines in mind.
Step 1 - Cut out all forms of junk food, including seriously unhealthy takeaways, fast food burgers, hot dogs and so on. Essentially, all the stuff you know you probably shouldn’t have been eating in the first place.
Step 2 - Make the conscious decision to reduce your consumption of processed meats throughout the day, or perhaps starting with the elimination of things like bacon, sausages or ham at breakfast.
Step 3 - Take this a step further by eliminating processed meats from your main meals, bringing in plant-based alternatives where possible.
Step 4 - Gradually begin reducing the portion sizes of the animal-based products you consume, starting with 100g or meat per meal and slowly reducing it as you go.
Step 5 - Remove as much visible fat as possible from the meet you consume, making every effort to purchase and cook with only the highest-quality, lowest-fat products available.
Step 6 - Begin cutting all red meat out of your diet entirely, easing yourself towards plant-based substitutes and getting more creative with your cooking.
Step 7 - Try to go a week, then a fortnight and then a month without eating any meat whatsoever, but don’t beat yourself up if you slip up any number of times along the way.
Step 8 - Phase out your consumption of other animal-based products like dairy along the way, while significantly reducing your consumption of fish.
Step 9 - Stop eating fish and seafood products entirely, again phasing them out of your diet gradually rather than attempting to cut them out overnight.
Step 10 - Work towards eliminating everything from your diet that contains any animal-based ingredients whatsoever, if your intention is to go 100% plant-based.
What Should I Use to Replace the Meat in My Diet?
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that all convenience foods on the plant-based market are good for you. Heavily-processed meat replacement products and vegan junk-foods can be just as hazardous to your health.
But this doesn’t mean that substituting meat for healthy alternatives needs to be difficult. For example, the 100g portion of meat you would usually include in meal could easily be substituted with one of the following:
- A 75g portion of chickpeas, beans or any other types of legumes
- 100g of tofu, cooked using your preferred method
- 40g of nuts or seeds
You’ll get the same feeling of fullness and satisfaction out of any of the above, though without the potential health implications associated with excessive meat consumption.
How Can I Ensure I Get Enough Protein?
While it’s natural to have concerns regarding protein consumption when cutting down on animal products, the plant-based world is packed with healthy sources of protein. All of the meat replacements mentioned above are loaded with healthy proteins and other key nutrients - as are countless dairy-free substitutes for milk, cheese and so on.
Once you get started, you’ll discover just how easy it is to include more than enough protein in your diet.
If anything, the only issue some face is ensuring they get enough vitamin B12. Many plant-based products are fortified with vitamin B12, but it can still be useful to keep supplements on standby, just in case.
Will Cutting Out Meat Definitely Work for Me?
Rounding things off, going 100% plant-based is not necessarily for everyone. Whatever your personal motivations for cutting out meat may be, it is essential to discuss your plans with your doctor before making any major lifestyle changes.
Your current state of health and your medical history will need to be carefully considered, prior to changing your diet in such a significant way. Though for the vast majority of people, doctors will usually whole heartedly recommend reducing the consumption of animal products and eating more fruits and veggies each day.