Is Meat Taking a Backseat?

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Meatless Mondays have become mainstream. Grocery stores now carry aisles of meat-free products and restaurant menus are offering more veggie-friendly options. Research shows that whole-food, plant-based diets are not only effective for weight management, but they have a host of other benefits for our bodies and our carbon footprint.

It’s no surprise U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods have increased 11 percent from 2018 to 2019, topping the market value to $4.5 billion. And consumers are taking advantage. Let’s get privy to the plant-based diet.

Plant-based or plant-forward diets generally incorporate plants, not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes and beans. Eating plant based does not necessarily mean eating vegan or vegetarian or that meat or dairy isn’t eaten, it just means more of the diet is comprised of plant sources. The basic principles limiting animal products; eating minimally processed foods while avoiding added sugars, white flour and processed oils. Key foods are plants, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, with emphasis on eating locally sourced, organic food whenever possible

Over the years, research studies have linked plant-based diets not only to weight loss, but also to many overall wellness benefits.

Disease Prevention
Plant-focused eating can prevent and possibly reverse chronic disease, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Lower Cholesterol and Blood Pressure
Even if small amounts of meat and dairy are consumed, a diet with more fiber may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

Lighten Our Earthly Footprint
A plant-based diet places less stress on the environment. What we put into our body is one of the biggest sources of climate emissions. By eating a plant-based diet, we are eating more efficiently and cost effectively compared to eating meat. Why? It takes a lot of energy to produce beef. For example, farms can produce about 20 kilograms of corn and soy protein with approximately the same energy load it takes to produce just one kilogram of beef, according to the University of Oxford.

Increased Brain Function
While our physical health can improve with a plant-based diet, our brain gets a boost from all those veggies, too! Studies show people see improved mental focus and performance along with a decrease in depression and anxiety as one of the effects of sustaining a plant-based lifestyle.

Maybe you’re thinking that a plant-based diet is right for you, but how do you get started? The proper tools and insight will help make the transition fairly easy and exciting. Besides discussing your plans with your doctor, here are a few tips.

Think about meat differently. Have less of it. Use it like a garnish instead of a main dish. When planning a meal, choose the vegetables first. Try meatless Monday, or any day of the week. Develop meals around beans, whole grains, and vegetables. By planning ahead, we give ourselves more time to stick to our new way of eating. It’s not a new concept, but meatless meats and veggie alternatives have skyrocketed in popularity over the last several years. Trying a wide variety will help find your favorites.

Stock up on veggies. Choose the rainbow when it comes to vegetables and fill most of your plate with these nutritional powerhouses. Choose good fats; fats in olive oil, olives, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and avocados are particularly heart-healthy choices.

Use breakfast time to nosh on oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat and barley. Jazz it up with your favorite fruits and nuts.

Try a variety of green leafy vegetables such as kale, collards, Swiss chard, spinach and other greens. Steam, grill, braise, or stir-fry to preserve their flavor and nutrients. Or make your meal a salad. Fill a bowl with hearty, leafy greens and add your favorite veggies, beans, tofu and herbs. Each week try a new veggie to tempt the taste buds.

Finally, eat fruit for dessert. Choose fruit that is in season and looks and smells fresh. Sometimes a beautiful, red, ripe apple is the perfect after-dinner treat.

Businesses are also on the plant-based bandwagon. Grocers and online retailers are progressively competing for our business with new and unique food choices. The vegan market has seen a vast increase in grocery product options for consumers, while restaurants and fast-food chains are also cashing in with plant-focused menu items. Most restaurants will have several veggie choices and good servers will know what to recommend.

Plant-based eating is gaining momentum as a benchmark for health and environmental responsibility. Plus, it’s pretty exciting. If turning to a plant-based diet feels overwhelming, then start small. Even lowering animal food intake by one or two servings a day can have a positive impact on the body, mind and earth, with one step at a time. ■

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