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Being a vegetarian is not for everyone. Even among some health enthusiasts, on occasion, a steak or a burger is the only thing they want to eat. Keep in mind, however, that for some of us, the desire to eat any animal products simply drops away. But if you are on the fence, you are not alone. I speak with people every week who say that they want to “go plant-based” but aren’t ready to make a complete commitment.
Let’s call this a hybrid approach.
Learning how to eat meat can be an upgrade in a non-vegetarian approach to a healthy eating program. My idea for this blog being how to eat meat is to inspire you if you would like to lean on a more plant-based diet and are not ready to eliminate animal products from your diet.
I have my daughter, Octavia, to thank for the awareness of vegetarianism. She and I were traveling in England, Scotland, and Ireland for a few weeks. I decided to follow her lead and avoid animal-based products. It was as much to support her and enjoy sharing meals together as anything else. It was then that I had my own aha moment. I love how I feel when I keep my diet to all plants/no animal products and I am not alone. Even for you, you can enjoy the benefits of a plant-based meal, or a plant-based day, without giving up animal products 100%.
In an earlier blog titled Almost Vegan, I describe how I navigate the world of veggies and animal-based products in my own practice. And even since I wrote that, I have continued to migrate toward more vegetarianism. I recently completed my certification through e-Cornell and the Center for Nutrition Studies in Plant-Based Nutrition. This was another jolt in my awareness and commitment.
Your take-away can be that our food choices are a process. They can and should evolve as we learn more about healthy living. It is best if we are decidedly not stuck in our habits.
Here’s something to encourage you. Your preferences are unique. Rather than get hung up on your title, focus on your values. There is no point calling yourself a vegetarian because it sounds cool when you really crave poultry or beef. Let’s make our time together now about how to eat meat, and not about restrictions in what you call yourself. (If you are interested in this labeling dilemma, check out www.RosieBank.com/labels.)
For starters, here are three tips:
- Feed your brain. It is enlightening to know some of the health hazards of eating certain types of meat, of saturated fat from animal products, and a diet that is lacking in micronutrients and phytonutrients from plants.
- Consider a hybrid approach. Adding more veggies and fruits to your meals and snacks is a brilliant approach if you want to boost your health while continuing to eat animal products.
- Quality and quantity reign supreme. Learn about how meat is prepared. Discover why you may want to be selective rather than indiscriminate in selecting animal-based products. The quantity piece has to do with the ratio of meat to plant-based items on your plate.
Two of the best books I have read on the virtues of vegetarianism is How Not to Die by Dr. Greger and The China Study by Colin Campbell. These two books, in particular, are dense with information. Both authors do what authorities on a given subject do, namely write enthusiastically and passionately about the virtues of their particular style of healthy eating.
Even in their extreme, both authors (and others in this genre) can and will inspire you and enlighten you about why you would want to include more plants (fruits and veggies) in your diet. Although I encourage you to consider books like this to learn about the benefits of eating more plants, the author of The China Study, who is obviously a proponent of vegetarianism, will not show you how to eat meat. But if you are reading this, then I can assume you would like to know how.
What I loved about How Not to Die, and Dr. Greger’s approach in particular, is how he generously makes suggestions about when, where, and how to eat meat even if you want to move toward being a vegetarian or a vegan. He created an ingenious red/yellow/green light metaphor to indicate, respectively, not eating ultra-processed plant and animal foods; eating processed plant and animal foods with restriction; and selecting unprocessed plan foods liberally. (Watch the video here.)
If you are like me, then every time you are reminded about the virtues of a plant-based diet, you will be more inclined to say “Pass the broccoli” instead of “Pass the burger.” The idea here is to consider the benefit of being suggestible. I read books like this all the time because I like to be suggestible. Allowing these distinctions to be top of mind instead of completely outside of your awareness is a good thing. I like to be reminded and I suggest that you consider being suggestible as well when it comes to your health.
Let me outline a simple approach to how to eat meat without your having to surrender your desire to live a long healthy life.
- Eat less meat. Learn how to appreciate a variety of fruits and veggies and how to prepare them. For example, eggplant parmesan is a delicious alternative to chicken Parmesan. A veggie burger with all the fixings is a satisfying meal. Assuming you are not going to give up eating meat, this is a simple concept. You may want to adopt a schedule. Examples are skipping meat every other day, meatless Mondays, including meat with only one (instead of two or three) meals per day.
- Be aware of the quality of the meat that you eat. Processed meats, such as bacon and sandwich or deli meats are loaded with sodium, nitrites, and other chemicals that have no place in a human diet. The two books I mentioned above plus documentaries such as Food, Inc. and Food Matters can inspire, inform, and influence your decisions. Organic, grass-fed, and grass finished meat contains far fewer antibiotics, hormones, bacteria, and other toxic by-products found in commercial beef. There is substantial data to support choosing organic, free-range chicken and wild fish as opposed to farm-raised.
- Be aware of how meat is prepared. The heavy smoke that accompanies grilling meat contains chemicals associated with various forms of cancer. The wood releases other chemicals that would best be avoided. Consider liquid smoke to get the flavor without the bi-products. Blackening your meat is another serious risk, as this increases AGE’s, which are advanced glycation end-products. These are associated with the age-related chronic disease. If you are a meat eater, you can still have standards. In this section and the one above about quality, it is okay to say no to certain types of meat and styles of preparation.
- Don’t worry about protein. As with all of the macro-nutrients (fats, carbs, and proteins) you will not find agreement among experts. If you will enjoy some plant-based protein such as tofu, tempeh, nuts, peas, beans, and seeds you simply do not need to eat meat for the protein. In addition, the effect of saturated animal fat on your arteries is undesirable. But the heart-healthy fat from coconut, avocado, nuts, and seeds will give you a big boost of vitality, particularly if you eat these foods in moderation. This is why people often feel better when they eat less meat (or eliminate it) and add more plants to their diet.
- Fiber. A huge benefit to adding more plants to your diet is the addition of fiber. A fiber-rich diet has a massive effect on your health. It is not nutritive, but it does its job to help your colon stay clean. Given that meat eaters are more likely to get colon cancer, and that there is no fiber in meat, hopefully, this will encourage you to add salads, veggies, and fruits to your meals even if you do eat meat.
- Consider substitutions. We love the Italian Sausages from Trader Joe’s that are plant-based. My husband and I are constantly trying new veggie burgers purchased at the store and made at home. Adding soy chorizo to your homemade chili gives it a real snazzy flavor plus a boost of plant-based nutrients. A hearty piece of multi-grain seed bread with nut butter plus some honey plus my favorite seed concoction (equal parts ground flax, chia, and hemp seeds) is incredibly satisfying.
In the spirit of feeding your brain, there are a few well-documented down-sides of eating meat. From the NIH website, “Our study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and certain cancers in other studies,” says lead author Dr. An Pan. In this article, you can learn about mortality and discover for yourself that a meat-based diet is not correlated with longevity. Therefore, if you want to know how to eat meat, the answer, again, is to eat less and add more plants.
For a more solid viewpoint, take some time at https://nutritionfacts.org/ to see how Dr. Greger addresses eating meat from a variety of perspectives. In How Not to Die, Dr. Greger addresses the correlation of eliminating or reducing meat to prevent a variety of lifestyle induced diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular, inflammatory, Parkinson’s, respiratory, and more.
To get on board with Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen, you can watch and become enlightened with his Daily Dozen video. (Hint: today would be a great day to allow yourself to be suggestible in watching this video.)
Here’s a fun story about substituting veggies for animal products. We went to a Super Bowl party this week. Our lovely hostess and celebrity chef, Jamie Gwen, prepared traditional chicken Parmesan for the chicken eaters. And, bless her heart, she prepared scrumptious spaghetti squash Parmesan for my husband and me.
Here is a challenge: try more vegetarian-based dishes. Even if you have to go to the store to buy them prepared, at least have your own experience of how tasty veggies are. Recently I purchased at Trader Joe’s one container of quinoa plus cauliflower with curry and one container of Mediterranean hummus with these lovely little white beans sitting on the top in a drizzle of olive oil. Vegan, baby, and full of flavor.
The slogan for Health Matters Coaching is to love your body and get your body to love you back. Let’s say you want to migrate toward more plants in your diet. Start off simple. Practice. Get recipes online. Enroll your friends and family to do this with you. Learn to savor the new flavors. Give your body a rest from the hormones, antibiotics, animal-based saturated fat, ammonia, bacteria, and so much more that is abundant in commercially grown meat, fish, and poultry.
I have a good friend who is a health psychologist. This means that his specialty is wellness. A number of years ago I said to him, “Wow, given the prevalence of meat-lovers, you would think that everyone develops heart disease and cancer.” His answer, “Many people do.”
It is no accident or mystery why the incidences of lifestyle induced diseases have sky-rocketed. When we look at what we eat, and what we avoid, it makes sense. From what you put in your mouth to what your body absorbs in the middle and eliminates at the other end, countless processes are happening along the way. Food can be medicine or poison. It always impacts our health, one way or the other.
Learning how to eat meat can be a game-and-life-changer for you. Frankly, I believe you will find, with practice, that it is less of a big deal than you may have thought. My brother-in-law, Rob, made our family an incredibly delicious vegetarian dinner recently by preparing a hearty nut loaf. The family members who typically enjoy meat savored every taste-bud moment.
Take really, really, really good care of yourself. Whether it is for fun, work, your family, travel, leaving a legacy, not “catching” the diseases your family had… find your own personal reasons for eating food that is good for you. Have an experience on purpose of how you feel after you eat. Living food helps you feel alive. I know you are worth it.
Go vegetable heavy. Reverse the psychology of your plate by making meat the side dish and vegetables the main course.