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
Michael Pollan said: “Real food is things that your great-grandmother (or someone’s great-grandmother) would recognize.” I believe the Mediterranean diet has been shown time and time again to be a healthy, effective diet because, first and foremost, it’s based on fresh, whole ingredients.
Among the many benefits of the Mediterranean diet, it has been considered the best anti-aging diet since some of the world’s oldest and healthiest people—mainly in Greece and other parts of the, ahem, Mediterranean—follow it. The diet is based on fatty fish, vegetables, ripe fruits, olive oil, nuts, seeds, unrefined grains, an occasional glass of red wine and minimal amounts of meat and full-fat dairy.
Other benefits of this ageless diet are:
- Great for heart health! A large cohort study (PREDIMED trial) showed that adapting a Mediterranean diet*—specifically increasing extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) or mixed nuts intake—could be used as primary prevention for cardiovascular disease, showing as much as 30% of reduced incidence of major cardiovascular events among high-risk individuals. In addition, a small study showed a 9% decrease in “bad” LDL cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease.
- Reduces incidence of cancer, cancer mortality, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases
- 19% less likely to develop thinking and memory problems and better retention of mental skills
- Fewer hot flashes and night sweats—up to 20%!
- Anti-inflammatory, due to its high amount of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and omega-3 fatty acids
*PREDIMED Trial: Generally, the Mediterranean diet groups consumed fatty fish 2-3 times per week, legumes 3 times per week, 4 tbsp. olive oil per day, 1 ounce of nuts each day, at least 3 servings of fruit and 2 of vegetables each day, and, for those accustomed to drinking, ~7 glasses of red wine per week.
Why does it work? The diet focuses on natural, unprocessed foods (vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans) that often maximize the health-promoting micronutrient and antioxidant content as well as fiber content. It is high in mono and polyunsaturated fats, which are found in olive oil/avocados/pine nuts and fish/nuts, respectively. Olives are also particularly rich in polyphenols, which are very strong antioxidants. In addition, it limits saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, and sodium, which have been shown to have an increased association with heart disease, cancer and stroke, among other chronic conditions. Usually, sweets are limited to fruits and/or honey, while processed snacks and empty calories are scarce—a great recipe for decreasing diabetes and metabolic syndrome! The lifestyle component or “non-food component” of the diet, as shown in the Mediterranean Food Pyramid, encourages pairing the diet with daily exercise, mindful eating and stress management. Enjoying meals with family is also considered to be an important aspect of the diet.
How to follow it? Generally speaking, the below is a good guideline to follow.
- Include a vegetable and/or fruit at every meal. Aim for 5 to 9 cups of fruits and vegetables a day. Think about including deep, colorful choices.
- Always choose whole grain! Some tasty options are buckwheat, bulgur, brown rice, oats, and millet.
- Non-meat proteins are encouraged from a variety of legumes (beans, dried peas and lentils) and eggs (anywhere from 4 to 7 per week).
- Olive oil is the principal source of fat: approximately 1-2 tbsp. daily, in addition to nuts and seeds (about ¼ cup).
- Fatty fish or poultry (free-range) should be consumed 2 times per week, 3-4 ounces per portion.
- Limit red meat (ideally lean and grass-fed) to a few times per month.
- Limit sweets to fresh fruit and a touch of honey.
- Consume moderate amounts of cheese and yogurt, preferably low-fat/non-fat.
- If you drink, drink wine in moderation (optional): about 1 glass for women and 1-2 glasses for men (5 oz. per glass).
- Flavor with herbs and spices instead of salt.
- Slow down. Sit down at a table to eat each meal/snack.
- Be active! Even though going to the gym usually translates as a stronger, more powerful workout, it’s important to also remain active throughout the day by taking the stairs, walking during your lunch break, or standing instead of sitting while you type!
What do you like the most about the Mediterranean diet?
Written by Alanna Cabrero, MS, RD
Originally posted on NYHRC Tumblr
Edited by TCabrarr
Photo of Tuna (Yellowfin, preferred) by Evan Goldenberg on Flickr.