We should all eat less meat but we don't all have to eat no meat to be healthy.
Nutrition 101. Why do we eat food?
We eat food to get essential nutrients so we can survive. Essential means we cannot make so we must eat. When we eat we get calories. Calories are a unit of energy that we need to be alive. There are 6 essential nutrients. Calories come from 3 of them: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Vitamins, Minerals and Water are the other 3 Essential (cannot make so must eat) nutrients. They do not provide calories but without them we would not be able to metabolize the macronutrients (carbs, fats, and protein) for fuel and growth.
As humans we discovered what we need to eat to survive. As our frontal lobes grew we also learned to eat for pleasure. Luckily for all of us there are thousands of different foods we can eat and enjoy that keeps us live and well. So why do I think that we should all eat less meat but we don't all have to eat no meat?
Meat and other animal products like milk, yogurt, cheese, poultry, fish provide us with essential nutrients.
Argument 1: But you can get the same nutrients from plants.
The argument is true. However, you cannot ignore this fact: some nutrients in animal foods are more absorbable and "bioavailable" than they are in plants. There are 2 reasons for this.
First, plants have fiber. Soluble and insoluble fibers are amazing, wonderful, gut-health promoting carbohydrates and we need them. But, they do block certain nutrients from being absorbed. So do phytates which are in plant foods.
Second, The chemical make up of some nutrients in plants are not as available as they are in animals. Examples: Heme iron in animals is more absorbable than non-heme iron in plants. Also heme iron is not toxic in the dietary amounts needed.
Vitamin D3 is the active form of Vitamin D in our bodies. Vitamin D2 which is found in plants has to be converted to D3 in our bodies.
So with that said, as free-living human beings we have the choice of getting our nutrients from plants or animals. Everyone should eat less meat, but all of us don't have to eat none.
You can't force someone to get protein from eat 3 ounces of tofu instead of 3 ounces of chicken. What if they have allergies to soy? What if they don't like tofu? What if they want to pay $2.69/ 16 ounces for chicken breast instead of $3.69 / 7 ounces of tofu to feed their families?
You also cannot force someone get iron from eat 3 ounces of beans instead of 3 ounces of steak. And you shouldn't make a person feel bad for doing so, either. #theGoldenRule
Argument 2: But eating meat is bad for the environment.
This is the strongest evidence based argument for eating less meat, in my opinion. But in terms of sustainable agriculture, I have more to learn. Sustainable agriculture is a strong interest of mine but it is not my niche. Please send me peer reviewed articles if you have them. However, even if someone has some stats that do show eating meat is worse for the environment I would still say this:
This is why eating less meat will be better for the environment and why I say we should all eat less. But across the board, is every plant crop is better for the environment than animal farms?
Questions I have are:
Living in Colorado, is it "better" for the planet to drink milk from a local dairy? or Almond milk from California?
Living in Colorado, is it "better" for the planet to get 8 grams of protein from 1 cup (222 kcals) of quinoa grown in Peru? or 1 large egg (~70 kcals) from one of the dozens chicken farms nearby?
Also, we are right now developing lab-grown meat so this environmental argument might not have as much weight in the future as it does now.
Argument 3: But eating meat is killing animals and that's sad.
Yes. This is a hard truth about the circle of life. I learned this lesson from Land Before time when Little Foot's mom dies. It was awful, I cried but then my mom and dad explained that organisms die and our organic matter decomposes and gets recycled back into earth.
That said, this argument isn't an evidence based reason to not eat meat. It's a reason driven by compassion and empathy which I can meet people on. I personally do not eat animals that walk on 4 legs because I feel bad (and how I "eat less meat"). But this again is a personal feeling.
It's an opinion. It's my personal opinion. It doesn't make me better than someone whose personal opinion is different than mine. So I don't spend time arguing over opinions. It's just not worth it.
My life as a dietitian is dedicated to studying human nutrition and how to use it to prevent and treat disease. "Food is thy medicine" yeah...that's why I went to school to be a Registered Dietitian. But this rampant food elitism -- the my diet is better than your diet mentality-- is stripping the credibility of the profession that is grounded on scientific evidence.
Food elitism is also sky rocketing food prices which is really bad because wages aren't going up. I'll stop here because I'm not economist, but it's a hard knowing that because of our competitive nature, the supply and demand of food is raising prices.
Meanwhile, nearly 1 in 8 Coloradans (12.1%) struggle with hunger, not always having enough money to buy food (www.hungerfreecolorado.org/hungerfacts/).
I promote a plant-based diet because it is evidence based
meaning at this point in science we know that having a diet that is made up of mostly plants grains, seeds, nuts, fruits, legumes, pulses, vegetables is very nutrient rich and keeps us in energy balance. Also people who follow plant based diets tend to live overall healthier lifestyles.
Here's a usual day for me and how I define my "eating less meat"
---PS. Technically meat is defined as the flesh of an animal, especially mammals. So poultry and seafood are separate but for the sake of current events I'll lay it all out here.
Intake of red meat, pork, or any animal on 4 legs = 0. I have not eaten any of these foods in 7 years thanks to a research paper I wrote on animal testing.
Intake of chicken turkey = **0 servings a week. It's been about 4 weeks? Since I had chicken or turkey so that leaves me with only seafood.
Intake of fish & seafood ~5oz a day. But this includes items like sardines, sustainably caught sea bass etc.
Click here for easy, pescatarian meal prep ideas.
This is what works for me. It may not work for you and that's totally okay!If you want help with plant-based diet planning, I am here to help.
My diet is not perfect because a perfect one-size fits all diet does not exist that can apply to every individual. . There are 7 billion + people eating everyday. Well, actually not all of us get to eat everyday. Maybe more people can consider that when arguing over different diets.
So take aways from the blog:
Eat mostly plant foods- grains, legumes, pulses, leaves, roots, fruits, herbs ....
Eat less meat- especially the ones that walk on 4 legs
Feelings aren't facts
Don't take nutrition advice from documentaries like What the Health.