A recent study by United Nations (UN) scientists have sounded alarm bells for the state of the environment. UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, has called the report a “code red” for humanity. While this may all sound doom and gloom, Mr Guterres also has a message of hope – that this situation is not irreversible and that if we collectively change the way we consume, we can save the planet for future generations.

“If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. But, as today’s report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses. I count on government leaders and all stakeholders to ensure COP26 is a success.”

While we may not hold political power, we can all do our part to cut our consumption or to consume more mindfully to reduce waste. For example, a key reason for a reduction of rainforests in the world, something that affects global weather patterns is our consumption of meat. Much of the world’s forested areas have been cleared to make way to grow animal feed. In other words, meat and dairy consumption have a huge carbon footprint. This means that if we were to drastically cut the way we consume, we can all do our part to turn the tide.

This is not to say that the entire world has to be vegan immediately. We can all take incremental steps. For example, do we really need to consume meat at every meal or every day? Could we perhaps cut down our intake to maybe 2 or 3 times a week?

Research has also indicated that cutting down on meat also has positive health benefits such as weight loss and better gut health. Cutting back on meat has indeed been linked to improved health and a reduced risk of certain diseases. However, these benefits seem to depend on what other foods you eat and what types of meat you limit.

Here are 4 potential benefits of reducing or avoiding meat.

  1. Better overall health

Vegetarian diets which exclude meat, and vegan diets, which exclude all animal products, have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. In addition, research suggests that more plant-based diets are associated with improved insulin resistance and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, compared with more animal-based diets.

Limiting meat may also aid weight loss and maintenance.

The possible health benefits of limiting meat and eating more plant-based likely stem from a higher intake of beneficial plant compounds, including:

  • antioxidants
  • fiber
  • some micronutrients

In addition, those who eat plant-based diets tend to consume fewer calories and less fat.

It is important to note that excluding meat while eating foods that are highly processed or high in added sugar refined carbs, or salt won’t have the same benefits. This is true even if those processed foods are plant-based. It is therefore advisable to ensure that you follow a properly researched vegetarian diet supported by a medical professional or nutritionist.

2. Heart health

One of the most researched aspects of plant-based diets is their effect on heart health. Some studies have indicated that there are associations between the intake of saturated fat, primarily found in meat and animal products, and an increased risk of heart disease.

Plant-based diets do not include many saturated fats unlike meat and are often rich in sources of unsaturated fat, such as:

They also tend to be rich in dietary fibre, a nutrient that may help reduce high blood cholesterol levels, which are associated with heart disease.

As a result, eating more plant-based while cutting back on meat that’s high in saturated fat can benefit heart health. 

3. Improved gut health

Fibre feeds the good bacteria in the gut that produce compounds with anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting roles in the body. Gut bacteria may also play a role in preventing the growth of certain cancer cells, improving body composition, and protecting against type 2 diabetes. Plant protein and beneficial compounds called polyphenols found in plant foods may also help maintain a healthy gut.

Research suggests that the fats and proteins from animal sources may promote the growth of other less healthy gut bacteria that negatively influence metabolism and play a role in heart disease.

Overall, eating a diet that includes a lot of plant foods and limits meat can nourish health-promoting bacteria.

4. Reducing the incidences of certain cancers

Eating a lot of red and processed meats, such as bacon, hot dogs, and other smoked or cured meats, has been associated with a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. Red and processed meat intake has also been associated with an increased risk of other cancers, including breast cancer.

Plant foods, on the other hand, appear to have a protective effect against colorectal and other cancers.

Tips for reducing meat intake

Here are some specific ways you can reduce your meat intake:

  • Start by swapping poultry or fish for red meat. Incorporate chicken, turkey, or seafood in place of red meat. These proteins are typically leaner and lower in saturated fat than beef, bacon, sausage, salami, and other cured meats.
  • Try plant-based protein sources. Many plant based foods are rich in protein. For example, black beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, lentils, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and soy-based products like tofu and tempeh. Choose one of these instead of meat in meals or snacks.
  • Stretch meat with plant proteins. Try bulking up traditionally meat-heavy dishes with plant foods so they last longer! Try making tacos with lentils place of half of the ground meat. You can use the rest of the meat in a chili paired with beans.
  • Get excited about trying new foods. Make it a goal to try one new plant food per week. Give lentils a try this week, quinoa next week, and black-eyed peas after that. Browse the internet for some tasty ways to prepare them — eating plant-based can be fun!

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