Does the kind of meat one consumes matter?
Yes. If you do include animal products in your diet, opt for high-quality eggs, seafood, and poultry, avoiding or minimizing red and processed meats. Aim for a Mediterranean-style diet but with the goal of obtaining most of your calories from plant foods.
How will cutting back on meat affect one’s health?
Eating a diet with less meat will confer a host of benefits if you replace the calories with whole plant foods. Your blood cholesterol levels will drop. You will optimize your gut microbiome, or the trillions of microorganisms that live in your gut and are crucial for disease prevention and health maintenance. You’ll dramatically decrease your risk of getting chronic diseases, including top killers like heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and obesity. Your gastrointestinal health will improve.
Should folks also be concerned about dairy?
Overconsumption of animal-derived dairy products — or the standard American (Western) diet — can increase your risk for chronic diseases, including breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive decline. Dairy products can be a significant source of casein, which is the main protein in dairy; it facilitates growth and development of cancers. Dairy products may also contain antibiotics and pesticides. Evidence also shows that dairy is not great for bone health. No other species consumes dairy regularly past the weaning period — especially not from another species — and with the growing rise of lactose intolerance, many people find they are unable to tolerate dairy as they used to. If you choose to include dairy products in your diet, aim for high-quality fermented dairy, such as plain yogurt without sugar or other additives.
What are ways to reduce meat intake? Are there substitutes that you would recommend?
Following a plant-based diet doesn’t mean giving up your favorite meat dishes. There are many plant foods that are delicious meat substitutes. Opt for whole plant food substitutes whenever possible rather than processed foods. Legumes, for example, are one of the healthiest foods on the planet. You can find recipes that turn lentils, chickpeas, and other legumes into burgers, ground meat, and meatloaf. Minimally processed soy foods like tempeh or tofu are another great substitute. Many vegetables can also sub in for meat, depending on how they are cooked and flavored, including jackfruit, mushrooms, eggplant, and potatoes.
Learn more about digestive health.
Shilpa Ravella, M.D., is a gastroenterologist and directs the Adult Small Bowel Program at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, managing gastrointestinal evaluations and the medical care of adult intestinal and multivisceral transplant patients. She offers an integrative approach to patient care with a focus on nutrition. She is also an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.