Studies suggest that eating a lot of meat increases health risks. But don't despair: Here are some seriously satisfying ways to cut down, flavorfully.
Put down that hot dog. Don’t touch the salami. Red meat? Look away.
Last year, the World Health Organization issued a report that made it a lot harder to ignore many years of health warnings about the dangers of eating too much red and processed meat.
Twenty-two experts from 10 countries, members of a working group of the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), reviewed more than 800 studies and issued a report classifying processed meat as a carcinogen whose consumption causes cancer and red meat — processed or not — as probably carcinogenic.
Here are eight tips that might help you reduce your meat intake.
1. Eat meat in small amounts
The WHO study didn’t specify how much meat and cured meat — or, meat that’s been salted, cured, fermented or smoked to preserve it or add flavor — is safe to eat. But other experts say it’s not necessary to eliminate meat completely.
For example, Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, tells National Public Radio:
“Eat no more than one to two servings per month of processed meats, and no more than one to two servings per week of unprocessed meat.”
2. Use healthy fats
Fat contributes some of the deep, soulful sense of satisfaction that comes from eating meat. You can use vegetable fats to hit that same note, but in a healthier way.
Cleveland Clinic’s Heart Healthy Cooking: Oils 101 lists the oils that are best for different purposes. Some cooking oils don’t stand up well to heat. Among the Cleveland Clinic’s recommendations:
- For high-heat cooking: almond, avocado, hazelnut, palm and refined olive oil.
- For medium-high cooking: canola, grape seed, macadamia nut, light virgin olive and peanut.
Avoid trans-fats. Also called hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, these processed oils abound in cheaply produced baked goods, popcorn, stick margarine, shortening, fast food and many other commercial food products. They are seriously bad for your health.
3. Try the new mock meats
To ease the meat out of your diet, find new tastes that you like. That means experimenting. In some cases, substitutions might not be hard to sell: Newer vegetarian meat replacements just might be good enough to deceive you.
One Green Planet, a vegan website, reviews 11 meat replacements.
4. Don’t forget about texture
Texture is critical in creating a satisfying meat substitute. It’s not always important to replicate the texture of beef. Instead, think about giving a dish enough textural variety and interest to make eating it satisfying and delightful.
5. Turn to turkey
One of the easiest ways to cut down on your beef consumption is to use ground turkey as a substitute in your favorite recipes. It’s healthier and has a similar texture and mild flavor that fit easily into many familiar foods. Just amp up the seasonings a bit.
Start your transition away from hamburger with a 50/50 mix of turkey and beef. Eliminate the beef as you become accustomed to the change and save beef for a special occasion or treat.
6. Find a new favorite burger
Half the battle of reducing your meat intake is finding a favorite go-to burger that doesn’t involve red meat. Here are a few options:
- Martha Stewart’s go-to burger recipe combines bread crumbs, scallions, mustard, garlic and Gruyère (Swiss) cheese with ground turkey.
- Bon Appetit Magazine grills an entire Portobello mushroom cap (or a fat slice of eggplant) along with sweet peppers for its “burger,” dressing it with pesto mayonnaise and provolone cheese.
- The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook website has five veggie burger recipes, including this one for Pinto Bean, Beet and Bulgur Burgers. It uses basil for brightness, walnuts for umami (a pleasant, savory taste) and, as a binder (instead of an egg), a surprise: a jar of carrot baby food, which adds “subtle sweetness,” the cookbook says.
7. Try these meatball alternatives
Mother Nature Network has five recipes for alternative meatballs. We’re talking chicken meatballs, bean and turkey Italian meatballs, Mario Batali’s Italian country meatless meatballs, and more.
8. Alternative snacks
The Pritikin Longevity Center — home of the Pritikin Diet — lists 10 “stick-to-your-ribs red meat alternatives:” Presumably, these aren’t meant to stand in for meat as much as they’re intended as healthy snacks that take your mind off your cravings. Here are a few:
- Hot oatmeal
- Green apple chunks with cottage cheese
- Soups and chilis packed with beans
- Baked potato topped with bean soup
- Warm tortilla with beans, veggies and salsa
- Hummus dip with crunchy raw vegetables
Are you experimenting with red-meat substitutes? Share your experiences in a post below or at Money Talks News’ Facebook page.