How to reduce your meat intake and increase plant diversity

The modern Western diet has been heavily influenced by the availability of animal products, particularly meat. 

Meat can be a valuable source of essential nutrients, like protein, iron, and vitamin B12.

But a diet that’s overly reliant on meat can mean a higher intake of saturated fat and cholesterol. This is linked to various health risks. 

Specifically, a high consumption of processed meat is associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic issues.

Also, we now know that red meat is linked with a higher risk of developing cancer, particularly colorectal cancer.

By contrast, a diverse, plant-rich diet not only provides enough protein, it offers an array of nutrients, including fiber, polyphenols, and antioxidants. These contribute to a healthy gut microbiome

The gut microbiome is the community of beneficial bacteria living in your intestines.

It plays a crucial role in your overall health, including digestion, immunity, and even mental health. So, it’s well worth looking after. 

A diverse, plant-based diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, feeds these beneficial bacteria and helps them thrive. 

So, the goal may not be cutting out meat completely, but instead developing a dietary pattern with a variety of plants. 

This approach can be budget-friendly, as well as good for you. Plant-based foods like grains, beans, and vegetables are often less expensive than meat.

Below are some strategies to make a transition to a diet with less meat and a wider range of vegetables easy and — importantly — enjoyable.

1. Try half and half

Start by reducing the amount of meat in your meals and increasing the amount of vegetables. 

For instance, in a lasagne, try using half the amount of mince and make up the rest with finely chopped mushrooms. Or in a chili, use half beef, half kidney beans.

2. Meatless days

You could join the global initiative Meat Free Monday or go meatless on any other days that suit you. 

It not only improves your health, it contributes to the health of the planet.

3. Take inspiration from global cuisine

Many global cuisines offer a variety of plant-based dishes. You might start with lentil or chickpea curries, falafel and hummus, or bean-filled burritos.

4. Learn new techniques

Plant-based foods can be a feast for all the senses. Grill bell peppers, roast root vegetables like carrots and parsnips, or toast seeds to intensify their flavors.

5. Use meat as a garnish

Rather than making meat the focus of your meal, use small amounts to enhance overall flavors.

For instance, you might add a small amount of diced, lean chicken to a vegetable stir-fry or make beef broth to add depth to a vegetable soup.

6. Explore plant-based proteins

While meat certainly is rich in protein, so are plenty of plants. So, why not swap out meat for tofu in a stir-fry or experiment with lentil-based dishes, like dhals or soups? 

You can use beans in salads and stews, and even in baked treats. Check out this recipe for black bean brownies.

7. Opt for meaty vegetables

Some vegetables work especially well as meat substitutes. Try sliced eggplant (aubergine) in a lasagne — or jackfruit, rather than pulled pork, in tacos.

8. Spice things up

Spices not only make vegetables sing, they count as plant foods. Try chili flakes or fresh chilies in bean dishes or smoked paprika in a vegetable curry.

9. Aim for many textures

Crunchy vegetables, creamy beans, and chewy whole grains can come together for a meal that's not only nutritious but a delight to eat.

The takehome

Eating less meat and a wider variety of plants can mean a healthier gut microbiome, fewer health risks, and a grocery list that’s easier on your budget.

Using the strategies above, you can make balanced, varied, and delicious meals with plants as the star of the show.