Whether you are interested in limiting or even completely eliminating meat from your diet, or are just curious about what a low-meat diet looks like you have essentially four key choices.. While many of the diets in this article may be promoted as inherently healthy, the best opinion you can find is from your doctor or a nutritionist. We suggest consulting with one before making any major changes. Let's explore your options in low-meat diets.
What’s the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan? Can you eat plant-based food and meat? What is a flexitarian? If any of these questions have crossed your mind read on.
Vegetarianism is a diet in which you do not eat animals themselves, but it does include animal products. For example, as a vegetarian you would not eat chicken, but eggs are on the menu. The Mayo Clinic further distinguishes different types of vegetarians by what they add or exclude from their diet:
Harvard Health reports, “Compared with meat eaters, vegetarians tend to consume less saturated fat and cholesterol and more vitamins C and E, dietary fiber, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, and phytochemicals.” Consuming more of these vitamins makes you more “likely to have lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and lower body mass index (BMI), all of which are associated with longevity and a reduced risk for many chronic diseases.”
Veganism is similar to vegetarianism but also excludes animal products. This means no chicken, beef or pork and nothing that comes from these animals. That takes dairy, eggs, and anything with those ingredients off the table. While these restrictions can be difficult to maintain, this diet also seems to become a loved part of many people’s lives. Some even consider it a philosophy. A writer from The Flaming Vegan prefers “philosophy” over “diet” as it “fits well with my interpretation of veganism as an ethical approach to how one lives their life as a whole.”A common concern with this diet is getting enough of all the nutrients we need, especially protein. The American Heart Association says that “removing meat doesn’t have to mean removing protein. There are plenty of foods that can fill the bill, like tofu, quinoa, mushrooms, lentils, chickpeas and most beans and legumes.” Even if nothing on that list calls your name, the list goes on; “artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, corn, potatoes, peppers, spinach, sweet potatoes and turnip greens all provide a good amount of protein.”
Flexitarianism may have the fewest guidelines and, as the name suggests, it is the most flexible. Flexitarians focus on eating less meat and favor plant-based and whole foods. The best part of this is that you get to pick what “moderation” means for you. For some, this means removing meat from your meals just one day a week, such as a “Meatless Monday.” Others may only include meat for one meal a day, or having smaller portions of meat or even completely cutting out meat except for special occasions. The Mayo Clinic says, “that kind of healthy eating [flexitarianism] is central to 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 heart disease and other chronic conditions.”
Plant-based foods can be a part of any diet. It’s unique from the other diets because you can eat plant-based and be a vegetarian, vegan, flexitarian or even as an avid meat-eater. So what does “plant-based” even mean? In a nutshell, it’s swapping your source of protein from meat-based products to those made from plants. For example, replace the chicken on your plate with a non-meat alternative. The American Heart Association clarifies that, “The key is adding high-quality, nutrient-dense plant-based foods... such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and nuts” and adding these foods “was associated with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular diseases.”
Cutting down on meat consumption, or cutting it out completely, doesn’t have to be confusing. There are many options for any and all nutritional requirements. Check in with your doctor before making drastic changes, especially if you have underlying health concerns, and have fun exploring new meals and foods.
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