Meatless meals: The benefits of eating less meat

You can eat healthfully without spending a lot. One way to achieve healthy savings is to serve meat less often. By Mayo Clinic Staff

It can be challenging to serve healthy meals on a budget, but with planning you can eat better for less. Many people save money by adding meatless meals to their weekly menus. Meatless meals are built around vegetables, beans and grains — instead of meat, which tends to be more expensive. Meatless meals also offer health benefits.

The health factor

A plant-based diet, which emphasizes fruits and vegetables, grains, beans and legumes, and nuts, is rich in fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. And people who eat only plant-based foods — aka vegetarians — generally eat fewer calories and less fat, weigh less, and have a lower risk of heart disease than nonvegetarians do.

Just eating less meat has a protective effect. A National Cancer Institute study of 500,000 people found that those who ate 4 ounces (113 grams) of red meat or more daily were 30 percent more likely to have died of any cause during a 10-year period than were those who consumed less. Sausage, luncheon meats and other processed meats also increased the risk. Those who ate mostly poultry or fish had a lower risk of death.

How much protein do you need?

The fact is that most Americans get enough protein in their diets. Adults generally need 10 to 35 percent of their total daily calories to come from protein. Based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, this amounts to about 50 to 175 grams a day. Of course, you can get protein from sources other than meat.

In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends choosing a variety of protein foods, including eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds. The guidelines also suggest replacing protein foods that are higher in solid fats with choices that are lower in solid fats and calories. The fats in meat, poultry and eggs are considered solid fats, while the fats in seafood, nuts and seeds are considered oils.

Sep. 16, 2011 See more In-depth