Picture by Peter Hellberg
We need to address the elephant in the room… meat. A staple of the American diet, meat is a big one of the big taboo topics for my clients. On average, Americans consume 8 oz of meat per day, including beef, pork, and poultry- 45% more than the USDA recommends and three times the global average. That is roughly 200 pounds of meat per person per year! As much as we personally believe we can’t live without meat in our diets, with the Paleo Diet, South Beach and Atkins Diet ringing in our ears, research tells a different story.
Let’s Take a Look at the Numbers
The popular calorie counting app, My Fitness Pal, reports that a generic burger with lettuce, tomato, mayo, pickle, onion and a bun comes to a whopping 942 calories, 59 grams of fat (37% of which is saturated fat!), 1,000 mg sodium and 57 grams of carbohydrates (refined, of course). The ugly truth is that this good old-fashioned burger provides half your recommended daily intake of calories and sodium, and far exceeds the recommended daily intake of fat and saturated fat. To make matters worse, most people wolf it down in ten minutes or less.
Veggie Power & The Chronic Connection
In order to develop the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 2010, the USDA conducted extensive research defining what the “ideal nutrition intake” should be. This process revealed exciting health benefits, “Vegetarian-style eating patterns have been associated with improved health outcomes, including lower levels of obesity, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure and lower total mortality.” This should come as no surprise when we think about what vegetarian style food sources contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy unsaturated fats, phytochemicals and low glycemic carbohydrates. Most vegetarian foods are naturally low in saturated fat, dietary cholesterol and toxins like nitroso compounds, heterocyclic amines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and glycation—end products formed in cooking, curing and processing meats. Not only do these toxins increase risk of cancer but they also speed up the aging process. Research has also shown that vegetarians have a lower overall rate of cancer and that plant-based diets (including plant-proteins) have been linked to a 20% lower risk of developing breast cancer. I’ve got your attention now; I bet!
What To Do?
Don’t panic! If you are not ready or willing to give up meat, there are small changes you can make to improve your health. Ever heard of Meatless Mondays? Choose one day a week and strive to cut meat from your diet that same day every week. Another option is to avoid meat for one daily meal. For instance, if you have a bacon, egg, and cheese every morning, try a vegetarian omelet instead. And if you are cutting back or eliminating meat from your diet, there are a few factors to keep in mind. Make sure you include foods high in protein and rich in iron and vitamin B12, since those are naturally high in meat-based foods. See the suggestions below to help you maintain a well-balanced diet.
Vegetarian sources of protein:
- Greek Yogurt
- Cottage Cheese
- Legumes (beans & lentils)
- Nuts or seeds such as hemp or pumpkin seeds
- Seitan (contains gluten)
- Whole grains
Vegetarian sources of Iron*
- Dark leafy Greens
- Legumes (beans & lentils)
- Fortified cereal
*Eat with foods high in Vitamin C like lemon or tomatoes to enhance iron absorption
*Males should aim for 8 mg and women 18 mg per day
Vegetarian sources of vitamin B12**
- Fortified Cereal
- Nutritional Yeast
- Milk and Yogurt
*Adults should aim for 2.4 mcg per day
Try The Meatball Shop’s Veggie Balls!Delicious and nutritious!
Thinking of cutting back on meat? What is your motivator? Tell me at #BushwickNutrition.
Written by Debi Zvi, RD, CDN
Edited by Alanna Cabrero and Tamara Cabrero