I just heard the term “meatless revolution” coined on an evening news program. Being a dietitian who is both professionally and personally a big fan of good nutrient dense carbohydrates-white potatoes, sweet potatoes, lentils, fruits, and vegetables- I am ecstatic to hear this is becoming a mainstream trend. Apparently, US meat consumption has declined 30%, so my hope is this trend continues as it is good for our health and good for the planet. Dietitians have been promoting this concept for decades. The USDA plate reinforces this eating “revolution” as well. So why should we cut down on meat consumption? For dietitians, the answers are obvious: this decreases total fat, saturated fat, and allows for calories to come from other food sources such has complex carbs which provide specific nutrients to the diet that would be lacking in a heavy meat diet. Eating less meat is also a good way to decrease inflammation and cancer risk in some people. Eating and growing more plant-based foods also consumes less energy and pollutes the environment less. For every pound of bread made, one pound of grain is needed. But for every pound of beef weight, eight pounds of grain are needed. And, let’s not forget that cows pollute with poop. It has to go somewhere, and often ends up contaminating our water and soil.
To embrace this so-called meatless revolution, start with:
- Having a meatless meal a few times per week. Try a lentil soup with whole grain bread or a vegetable topping pizza every Friday.
- Making a conscious decision to decrease your animal protein servings to the size of a deck of cards; this is the portion size you should be eating, but many are eating 2-3 times that amount.
- Substituting plant-based protein for meat options. Try peanut butter in place of cold cuts on whole wheat bread for a hearty sandwich or lentils and beans in soups and stews to replace some of the meat the recipe calls for.
How do you downsize your meat?
For whatever reason, the topic of carbohydrates fuels a firestorm of controversy. Look anywhere on the Internet, and you will find a preponderance of carb criticism and vilification. Indeed, not all carbs are created equally, and the carbs which should be emphasized for health are the complex carbohydrates. These carbs are high in nutrient density. Complex carbs include lentils, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Here are 20 guilt-free reasons to include these nutrient-dense carbohydrates into your diet:
- They provide a rich source of B-complex vitamins, many of which are not derived from other food categories.
- In the form of fruits and vegetables, they are an excellent source of vitamin C.
- They provide significant sources of potassium.
- They are naturally low in fat.
- They are loaded with anti-oxidants and potentially health protecting phytonutrients.
- Complex carbs are high in fiber to aid digestion and prevent constipation.
- Fiber-rich complex carbs aid in blood glucose control.
- Complex carbs fill you up and help you stick with a weight loss diet.
- Sufficient carbohydrates prevent ketosis.
- Adequate carbohydrate intake spares protein, allowing it to be used by the body for healing, repair, and growth in children.
- If you are decreasing your calories from carbs, you need to increase your calories from another nutrient such as animal protein, which in excessive amounts may weaken bones.
- If you are decreasing your calories from carbs, you need to increase your calories from other nutrients such as fat, which may lead to plaque build up on your arteries.
- A low carbohydrate intake might increase cortisol levels, which may increase risk of some cancers.
- A low carbohydrate intake might lead to an increased animal protein intake, which can increase painful gout.
- You need carbohydrates in your diet to make glycogen-this is your storage fuel for endurance athletic events as well as what your body needs to rely on for fuel in the event you cannot eat for a day!
- Dairy products are nutrient dense carbohydrates and are important contributors of nutrients necessary for maintaining both strong bones and normal blood pressure.
- Most Americans fall short of magnesium requirements and many good sources of magnesium are complex carbs such as spinach, bran cereal, beans, lentils, and dairy products.
- Strong bones need more than just calcium, and many of the nutrients necessary for strong bones-vitamin K, various B vitamins, and magnesium are readily available from complex carbs.
- As food, they create less of a carbon footprint than growing animals to eat.
- They are satisfying and taste good!
Emphasizing unprocessed nutrient dense carbs such as lentils, beans, fruits, vegetables, fat-free dairy, and whole grain foods is not controversial, it is intelligent eating for the 21st century.
Not very long ago, I was in a major Chicago suburban grocery store contemplating purchasing some frozen shrimp. With the globalization of our food supply, I am in the habit of checking where a food item originates from in order to be “respectful” to the planet. I would prefer to avoid purchasing seafood from the other side of the world, and this shopping day I was actually unable to find any frozen shrimp other than shrimp from Thailand. I put the shrimp back, as I just had an unsettled feeling about making such a purchase.
This week, tuning into the late hour US ABC Nightline news show, there was a story about a beautiful exotic cat from Southeast Asia which is becoming extinct. This wild cat, called the fishing cat, is a native to the wetland areas of Southeast Asia. These same wetland areas of Southeast Asia are also being utilized for the farming of shrimp, and much of that shrimp ends up in the United States. According to the ABC Nightline story, as the shrimp farmers take over the wetlands and encroach on the native home of the fishing cat, the fishing cat population has declined to the point of near extinction. As this exotic web-footed cat actually swims in the water for food, this encroachment by shrimp farmers has affected the natural habitat as well as the ability to access fish for food. With diminished capacity to find fish to eat, fishing cats are often forced to hunt for alternative food sources such as farmers’ livestock, which then allows them to meet their death with a shotgun.
Regardless of how you connect to this story, it points out there are multiple good reasons to purchase food locally. If purchasing shrimp raised closer to home can stop a species from becoming extinct, that means a great deal to me as a human being. If it means our planet degrades less quickly, it should mean the world to you.
For the complete Nightline footage on this story, http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/shrimp-farms-endanger-fishing-cats-16207450