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4 Reasons to Add Plant-Based Meals to Your Diet

Girl holding bag of vegetables

As I mentioned in my first blog post, I am not a vegetarian or vegan, and honestly feel like I’m always on the verge of craving a burger. However, as I’ve done more research on eco-friendly lifestyles, I’ve found it impossible to ignore the proven effects that eating meat has on myself and the environment, and decided I needed to make some changes. I didn’t go cold turkey (no pun intended) and stop eating meat all-together, but instead started small - experimenting with vegetarian recipes one or two nights a week. Currently, I try to follow a completely vegetarian diet during the week, and on weekends have a more relaxed approach, avoiding it where possible, but allowing myself to satisfy any cravings and share in meals with friends and family that contain meat. I call this being a "weekday vegetarian"! While I’m not sure if I’ll ever go full vegetarian or vegan, there are some very compelling arguments for these lifestyles, and I want to share with you the four most important reasons to add more plant-based meals to your diet.

1. Your Health

Without our health, we have nothing. If we aren’t alive and well, the next three factors I’m going to share with you become completely irrelevant. So how does eating meat affect your health? If you google “health impacts of eating meat” a slu of research will come up from respected organizations and companies describing the potential and proven effects on humans from eating an excess of meat. A strong body of scientific evidence links excess meat consumption, particularly of red and processed meat, with heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, certain cancers, and earlier death. Diets high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans can help prevent these diseases and promote health in a variety of ways. While meat can be a good source of protein and other essential nutrients, most Americans eat more than 1.5 times the average daily protein requirement, and more than 3 times the global average consumption of meat. Plus, meat-free alternatives like seeds, nuts, legumes, grains and vegetables can provide you all the protein and nutrients you need, without the negative health impacts. Typical American diets fall significantly short of meeting recommendations for vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.1

How much meat is too much? While there isn’t an exact answer to this question, as it often depends on your age, weight, activity level, etc., many health and research organizations have recommendations similar to that of the World Cancer Research Fund:

 

If you eat meat, limit consumption to no more than three portions per week. Three portions is equivalent to about 12–18oz cooked weight. Consume very little, if any, processed meat (meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation, including ham, salami, bacon and some sausages).2
Now that you have some of the scientific facts and research, I’ll tell you about my personal experience. I had been experimenting with vegetarian recipes and eating plant-based a couple times a week for a few months, but I really started getting serious about making a change after I visited a new doctor, who suggests as a general rule that upwards of 80% of our diet should consist of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and legumes. I also had stumbled upon a couple podcast episodes and articles that spoke to people who saw dramatic changes in their overall health, in some cases even curing ailments, by switching to a plant-based diet. I finally decided to give it a try and go an entire week eating fully plant-based, not really expecting to see any changes. In just that one week, I saw, or rather felt, a major change in my body. I had been feeling a little sluggish, unmotivated and tired in the weeks leading up, and that first week of eating no meat I felt so energized, was able to get out of bed easier, and felt my focus start to return. Plus, I’ve found some awesome recipes that are so delicious I don’t even miss having meat in my meals. (Recipe blog post coming soon!)

2. The Environment

The reason I started this blog, and Clam & Clasp, was because of my passion to raise awareness of some of the human-caused dangers facing our planet, and the desire to do something about it myself. So obviously the environmental impact of eating meat has been a major factor in my decision making process. The production, processing and distribution of meat involves the use of huge amounts of pesticides, fertilizer, fuel, feed and water, and releases greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals into our air and water. A recent study found that red meat is responsible for 10 to 40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as vegetables and grains.3 In fact, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet:

 

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet.4

Limiting your consumption of these products helps reduce your impact not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, land and water use and other factors, making it far more impactful even than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car, since these only reduce greenhouse gas emissions.4

Meat consumption also causes other environmental issues. The water pollution from factory farms, in which pigs and other livestock are contained in tight quarters, can produce as much sewage waste as a small city. In addition, the widespread use of antibiotics to keep livestock healthy on those overcrowded farms has led to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that threaten human health and the environment.3

There are so many other environmental impacts directly resulting from the production of meat that I won’t go into here, this just gives you a glimpse of the issues. I may write a future blog post focused solely on this topic as I research and learn more.

3. Ethics

I’m sure you’ve heard about some of the inhumane horrors associated with animal treatment in food production. As an animal lover, it’s hard for me to even read articles that discuss this. I’ve read enough to know that all meat is not created equal, and knowing the source of your food truly matters. The factory farms mentioned above are some of the most notorious for having extremely poor living conditions for the animals raised there, including cramped, disease-ridden spaces with little to no regard for animal welfare. Ethics differ from person to person, so I won’t go too much farther into this topic, but I will say that ethics have been one of the main reasons I not only decided to cut back my consumption of animal products, but also try to always choose products from organic, pasture-raised, cage-free, and grass-fed animals when I do eat meat or dairy.

4. Finances

If you still aren’t convinced that incorporating more plant-based meals into your diet is a good idea, here’s something that may catch your attention: MONEY. Because of all the effort associated with raising animals for consumption, meat is expensive! In fact, research suggests vegetarians can save at least $750 more than meat-eaters per year.5 Personally, switching away from eating meat 4-5 times per week has dropped my grocery bill from $150-200 to $80-100 per week for 2 people. I am fortunate to live near a farmers market style grocery store (Grower’s Direct) that offers produce from local farmers at incredible prices. If you can’t find a store like this in your area, there are also awesome programs like Community Supported Agriculture, where you can sign up to support a local farm and get a box of fresh produce each week at a great cost. I’ve also been seeing lots of programs recently that sell produce that is rejected by grocery stores and restaurants because it is “ugly” - misshapen, discolored, etc - at a discounted rate. And even without any of these programs or specialty stores, if you just continue buying produce at your local grocery store and substitute that along with legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains for meat, I guarantee you’ll see some savings.

I hope if anything this has made you think about the diet choices you make on a daily basis, and maybe even inspired you to try incorporating vegetarian meals into your diet a few times per week. I’ll be honest, during the week it’s relatively easy for me to eat plant-based when I’m in a routine and cooking meals myself. But on the weekends, especially if I’m traveling, it’s much more difficult. Food is one of my great loves, and I want to be able to live a life where I can constantly experience new foods and flavors. That’s why I came up with my "weekday vegetarian" habit. Right now, it’s working for me and my lifestyle, but it may change. I started this blog to be real about the struggles of going green, and I want to always be honest with what I’m experiencing. I can confidently say I don’t believe I’ll ever go back to a diet that consists of large amounts of meat, but I’ll always be learning, experimenting and discovering what works for me, and sharing along the way so that hopefully you can do the same.

Talk soon,
Janell 

As always, 20% of profits from every purchase of Clam & Clasp handcrafted seashell jewelry are donated to non-profits focused on ocean conservation and keeping our planet clean and healthy. You can learn more and check out our partners here.

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-a-livable-future/projects/meatless_monday/resources/meat_consumption.html

  2. https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/recommendations/limit-red-processed-meat

  3. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/meat-and-environment/

  4. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth
  5. http://time.com/money/4066188/vegetarians-save-money/

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