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It’s no longer much of a secret: attitudes about the sustainability of animal farming, meat manufacturing, and the treatment of animals have all evolved in recent decades. Many humans may indeed crave meat as part of their diet, but an increasing number of people are starting to consider just how much meat we should be eating considering the unwanted side effects of raising and slaughtering billions of animals for food. In fact, cutting down on meat consumption produces tremendous environmental benefits on a global scale. On a personal level, though, it can also produce physical and mental health impacts that would be enough on their own to make anyone want to try a less-meat/more-plant diet.

Minimizing Our Deadliest Foe: Heart Disease

Attention may be on the COVID-19, but there’s still a cause of death in America that’s taking more lives than the pandemic: heart disease. Perhaps the most widely recognized risk of meat overconsumption is the increased risk of yes, heart disease, as well as obesity, cancer, and many other health conditions. According to Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publishing piece on the topic, the “accumulated body of evidence shows a clear link between high intake of red and processed meats and a higher risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and premature death.” Thus, limiting or minimizing the intake of red and processed meat can keep risks of these conditions at bay.

Propelling Overall Healthy Choices

Taking proactive care to minimize meat consumption and maximize our intake of plants, and to embrace a whole foods diet, can also create healthy trickle-down effects. Embracing healthy eating habits can inspire individuals to revamp other health-related choices, embarking on a healthy lifestyle path. Regularly reducing meat intake can motivate individuals to maintain a healthy weight, and engage in physical activities. It can also spark interest in proactively caring for mental health, and attempting to improve well-being in general. This cycle of positive choices creates a snowball effect with desirable outcomes.

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Gaining Energy And Increasing Happiness

Americans just eat a lot of meat–far more than nearly any expert would counsel as good for us. All of that overconsumption can literally weigh us down. Eating a fiber-rich diet is a well-known way to feel full without consuming too many calories. Unfortunately, meat is totally void of fiber. Whole plant foods, on the other hand, are typically packed with fiber that not only helps us feel full but also feeds the microbiome in our intestines, eliciting better digestion. Eating a meat-heavy diet can inhibit the microbiome from working at peak performance, and has even been linked to pronounced growth of disease-promoting bacteria.

You’ve likely known that feeling after eating a meat-heavy meal: you leave sluggish, heavy, and tired. But people who enjoy whole foods plant-based meals typically don’t suffer from this post-meal problem. Minimizing meat consumption, and maintaining a plant-rich diet can provide usable energy, perfect for maintaining an active lifestyle.

In my own experience, enjoying meals higher in fruit and vegetable just foster more energy. Additionally, they can bolster positive moods and overall mental wellbeing.  An extensive University of Warwick study examined the eating habits of over 80,000 individuals in the United Kingdom. According to the published results, economists and public health researchers “found mental wellbeing appeared to rise with the number of daily portions of fruit and vegetables people consumed. Wellbeing peaked at seven portions a day.” That’s of course far more fruits and vegetables than what most Americans are eating daily today.

Embracing Plant Protein Power

Touted for being a provider of important protein, meat has long been the most traditional vehicle for adding protein to a meal. However, many modern meat-alternative products provide equitable portions of protein. Additionally, many other food products are naturally high in protein. Beans, lentils, seeds, nuts, and whole grains lend a helping hand in the quest for building a protein-sufficient diet. Protein is an important component of a healthy diet, especially for active individuals. Consuming plant-based protein can become an easy alternative to animal protein, and render other health benefits. Generally, plant-based proteins come with less fat and fewer calories, along with more fiber. They also naturally have a plethora of other vitamins and minerals essential to a well-balanced diet.

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Creating Opportunity For Dietary Innovation

Cooking with meat alternatives and plant-based protein sources can provide an opportunity to get creative in the kitchen. Many at-home cooks who traditionally centralize dinner around a meat product can find themselves rotating through only a handful of standby recipes. However, eliminating or minimizing meat products forces timid cooks to think outside the box. It naturally sparks the opportunity to discover new recipes. With growing websites, channels, and publications dedicated to meat-free lifestyles, diversifying culinary skills can be a fun, easy, and rewarding experience.

Growing numbers of innovative companies are creating plant-based meat alternative products that can be easily substituted in traditional recipes. With these added choices, cooking delicious meatless meals doesn’t necessarily have to include reinventing the proverbial wheel. Just like with plant-based milk, consumers of plant-based meats aren’t being asked to give up the tastes that they love; they’re simply being offered what looks and tastes like the same thing but without the same type of planetary problems (nor the cholesterol for that matter). Substituting traditional meat products for these meat-alternatives can provide a fast, easy, and healthy option for busy families.

From promoting healthy gut bacteria and aiding digestion, to providing clean energy for an active lifestyle, enjoying more plants and less meat can foster various personal health and wellness benefits. That’s why more and more individuals are choosing to explore options like plant-based eating — whether full-time or part-time — and reaping the benefits. With so many personal benefits linked to minimizing and eliminating meat consumption, taking proactive control of personal health can be a wholesome, energizing, and inspiring journey sparked by some simple dietary changes.