To say Americans love their meat would be a bit of an understatement. In fact, the United States consumes more of it on average every year than nearly any other country in the world. But don’t take my word for it -allow me to just pop into my Veducational Laboratory for a moment to gather some statistics.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Americans devoured a whopping 270.7lbs of meat per person in 2007. That’s an astronomical leap from the annual average of 138.2lbs per person in the 1950’s, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It also happens to be an excess 145.7lbs above the recommended annual maximum of 125lbs of protein by USDA dietary guidelines.
Sure, you may find yourself reasoning, that’s a lot of meat. But what’s the big deal with packing in some extra red-blooded protein? Unfortunately, it is a pretty big one.
There are actually a number of serious health risks connected to meat over-consumption. A 2012 study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) linked high meat consumption to dramatically higher risks of cardiovascular disease [currently the leading cause of death in the U.S. according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC)]. Both the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) report strong correlations between the relationship of meat consumption and type 2 diabetes, stroke and a variety of cancers. An additional study by the NCBI in 2009 also revealed findings of the direct associations between obesity and meat-heavy diets in U.S. adults.
Oh, you say now (as you slowly try to hide the empty Slim-Jim wrappers in your trashcan), this Veducation Lab is a little uncomfortable. (Just hang in there.)
In light of these health considerations, you might find it unsurprising that the dietary recommendation to each of these health detriments is the same –a significant reduction of meat intake. It is also due to these findings that another type of dietary lifestyle has begun steadily gaining notoriety in recent years –vegetarianism.
Vegetarianism? Woah now, you’re thinking, I didn’t sign up for this when I came in here. Just hold on there, you chicken-wing-hoarding carnivore. Don’t let the sight of that broccoli get you panicky. No one is trying to christen you or dunk you in some kind of weird vegetable holy water. We’re just talking. Be cool.
Though once skeptical, the deepening of nutritional research into vegetarianism over the last 20 years has begun revealing new perspective within Western Culture into the benefits that a vegetarian diet offers. In contrast to their meat-eating counterparts, vegetarians show significantly lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or cholesterol, as well as lower overall cancer and obesity rates, according to the American Deictic Association (ADA). A long-term study by the German Cancer Research Center revealed that vegetarians also appear to reap an increased longevity, as male participants reduced their risk of premature death by 50 percent and female participants by 30 percent over a 21-year span. The NCBI also reported evidence of decreased risks of hypertension, osteoporosis and other certain chronic diseases among vegetarians. That’s certainly enough food for thought to strike some intrigue within the meat-eating community.
That all sounds great, you may be thinking, but at the same time improbable to implement in your own meat-loving lifestyle. You definitely desire the idea of heart health and longevity –but do you know what else you definitely desire? Steak. And bacon. Even in recognizing the benefits of a meatless lifestyle, you may feel there is no way you could bring yourself to give up meat altogether. So is it even possible for this article or any of the perks of a vegetarian diet to apply to you? Absolutely.
While you may not want to convert to an all-green all-the-time lifestyle, there are still many health profits to be reaped by choosing to adopt a greener one. You can begin taking steps to dramatic health and nutritional improvements in your own future by implementing a part-time vegetarian diet three to five days a week. And getting started might be easier than you suspect wit these five simple strategies.
Have a plan
Simply saying “I’m going to eat better” but having no execution plan to follow through is like “I’m going to take a vacation” without making any kind of travel arrangements. Decide how many days a week you want to go green and consider whether starting with a lower number and building your way into a higher one will enable you to succeed. Then pick a start date and set goals for when you’re going to add an additional day.
Meal plan in advance
Give yourself adequate time to decide what type of meals you will be having on vegetarian days and which groceries you will need to prepare them. Keep in mind there may already be recipes you enjoy that can be adapted –lasagna, for instance, can easily be converted into a vegetarian-friendly dish by replacing the meat with vegetables and whole-grain pasta.
Pack in the protein
There are sometimes misconceptions about protein consumption in vegetarianism, because some people hear the term “vegetarian” and visualize someone who sits around eating nothing but grass and twigs all day. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are actually a wide variety of protein sources available aside from meat, which includes nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, legumes, whole grains, meat substitutes, tofu and soy products. Make sure to incorporate them in your own meal preparation, and try different things to discover what you like.
Max out on the fruits and veggies
That is, after all, one of the key points in constructing a well-balanced vegetarian diet –the greens. It’s not simply the absence of meat, but the equally important contribution of nutrients and sustenance provided by fruits and veggies. (After all, you could technically eat nothing but cookies and potato chips all day and call yourself a vegetarian, but you would be neither balanced nor healthy.) Try new vegetables and experiment with ways to prepare them –you might not like asparagus raw or steamed, but throw them on the grill or in the oven with a little olive oil and seasoning and you might fall in love.
Stick to it
Choose to keep pursuing your goals, even if you fall short sometimes. Try enlisting some accountability partners to help keep you on track and encourage you along the way. Nothing worth having is easy, but some things are definitely worth having. Your health is one of them. You only get one life and one body –and it is always worth making the investment to take care of both.
Writing copyright © 2014 Rachel Elise Weems Woods
Images copyright © Bigstockphoto.com