Rather than trying to cut out meat completely – which some of us may find quite difficult – simply making an effort to reduce our intake can have lots of benefits. Taking the half-and-half approach, meaning to switch out half the meat in your meals for pulses or extra veg for example, helps to make your meal more nutritious while also benefiting the planet. Read on for more about how this simple change helps you.
Meat, especially red meat such as beef and pork, is much higher in calories and fat than foods such as pulses and vegetables. Whilst it can be a healthy part of a balanced diet, eating a lot of meat can lead to the consumption of excess calories, which can lead to weight gain. In fact, research has found a link between those who eat a lot of meat and an increased risk of being overweight. Health data also indicates that those who follow a meat-free diet tend to consume fewer calories and less fat than those who eat meat. This isn't a given of course, as there are plenty of ways to eat an unhealthy, high-fat, meatless diet – but generally speaking, people who consume less meat will be eating more vegetables and pulses.
Halving the meat content of your meals and switching it out for a lower-fat, lower-calorie food such as lentils, not only saves calories but provides additional fibre too. This helps to ensure your meal is just as satiating, even though it contains fewer calories. This simple change can really help if you're watching your weight or trying to lose weight as it is an effective way to stick to a reduced calorie intake.
It's no secret that vegetables are packed full of important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fibre. Removing some of the meat in your meals and replacing it with an extra helping of vegetables is a great way to reduce your meat intake, while also upping your nutrient intake. Pulses, such as lentils and chickpeas, are great choices for bulking out meals in place of extra meat. This change can help to slash the saturated fat content of your meals, while upping the fibre and vitamin content. Over time, it's a small dietary adjustment that can help lead to a reduced risk of heart disease, certain cancers and type 2 diabetes.
Good options for plant-based foods to use in place of meat are mushrooms, aubergine, lentils, chickpeas, beans and cauliflower. These foods are all quite bulky and have a good texture, which makes them a satisfying replacement – unlike some vegetables which can become a bit mushy! Give these suggestions a try:
As well as swapping half the meat in your meals for a plant-based alternative – why not try going half-and-half with your carb choices too? If you find it hard to switch completely to wholemeal bread, pasta or brown rice for example, try the half-and-half approach. Changing to 50:50 bread and half white/half wholemeal pasta and rice will help towards your fibre intake.
If we all cut the meat in our meals by half, we'd be significantly reducing our overall meat consumption. A reduction in demand would help reduce the overall production of meat – which has a significant impact on our environment. Keeping livestock requires lots of land, as well as feed and water – which uses up resources. Animals such as cows also produce a significant amount of methane which is a harmful greenhouse gas.
While we know that meat consumption is a significant factor in the growing issue of global warming, cutting it out of our diets completely is not entirely necessary. If we all reduce the amount we eat by taking on this half-and-half approach more often, then we'll be helping the environment without losing the nutritional benefit of meat. While meat can be higher in saturated fat and calories, it's also a good source of bioavailable protein, iron and B vitamins, which are important for our health. So why not take on the half-and-half challenge today and start making a difference to you and our planet!
Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.