Meatless meals: The benefits of eating less meat
Plant-based proteins offer many health benefits and can be less expensive than meat. One way to get these benefits is to choose a meatless meal once or twice a week.By Mayo Clinic Staff
People decide to eat less meat for many reasons. You may want to cut out meat for health, ethical, religious, cultural or environmental reasons. But it can be hard to make changes to your diet and still serve healthy meals.
Why not start by serving meatless meals once or twice a week?
Meatless meals are built around beans, lentils, vegetables and whole grains. Plant-based proteins offer many health benefits. Eating more plant-based proteins can help your budget too. They tend to be less pricy than meat.
The health factor
A plant-based diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, peas, lentils and nuts. It's rich in fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. And people who don't eat meat, called vegetarians, generally eat fewer calories and less fat. They also tend to weigh less. And they have a lower risk of heart disease than nonvegetarians do.
Research shows that people who eat red meat are at a higher risk of death from heart disease, stroke or diabetes. Processed meats also make the risk of death from these diseases go up.
And what you don't eat also can harm your health. Diets low in nuts, seeds, seafood, fruits and vegetables can also make your health risks go up. The good news is that even eating less red and processed meat has a positive effect on health.
How much protein do you need?
Most Americans get enough protein in their diets. The recommended daily intake of protein for adults is about 50 grams.
Of course, your protein needs will vary with age, weight, health, pregnancy, activity level and other factors. Adults need about 5 to 7 ounces of protein-rich foods a day. And keep in mind, you can choose from more than one protein source.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends choosing a variety of proteins. These include eggs, low-fat milk and products made from it, beans, peas, lentils, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.
If you're eating a higher calorie protein source, stick to smaller portions. For example, enjoy just 1/2 ounce of nuts, or 1 to 2 tablespoons of peanut butter.
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, eggs and high-fat dairy products such as cheese are called solid fats. The fats in seafood, nuts and seeds are called oils.
Try meatless meals once or twice a week
You don't have to get rid of all meat all at once. Instead, try easing into meatless meals. Think about going meatless one day a week. You may find you'll want to add more days.
If you don't like the idea of a whole day without meat, start with a couple of meatless dinners each week. Plan meals that use your favorite recipes that are typically meatless, such as lasagna, soup, pasta and vegetable salad. Or try substituting the following protein-rich foods for meat in your favorite recipes:
- Beans, peas and lentils can be added to casseroles, soups and salads.
- Vegetarian refried beans can be used instead of meat in burritos and tacos.
- Tofu can be added tostir-fry dishes.
When meat is on the menu
When your meals include meat, don't overeat. Choose lean cuts and stay away from oversized portions. A serving of protein is 3 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards.
An easy guide to balance your meal is to divide your plate. Proteins should take up no more than one-fourth of your plate. Vegetables and fruits should cover half your plate. Whole grains make up the rest.
Flexing for your health
The term "flexitarian" describes someone who eats mostly plant-based foods. But the person occasionally eats meat, poultry and fish.
Plant-forward is a style of eating that includes meat. But meat is not the star of the meal. This kind of healthy eating is key to the Mediterranean diet. It's also key to other cuisines, such as some Asian, Ethiopian, Indian and Middle Eastern diets. These diets limit red meat. And they focus on fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, whole grains and healthy fat. This type of diet has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions. Why not work on your flexibility and start enjoying some healthy benefits?
Dec. 09, 2022
From Mayo Clinic to your inbox
Sign up for free and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips, current health topics, and expertise on managing health. Click here for an email preview.
ErrorEmail field is required
ErrorInclude a valid email address
To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which
information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with
other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could
include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected
health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health
information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of
privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on
the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.
Thank you for subscribing!
You'll soon start receiving the latest Mayo Clinic health information you requested in your inbox.
Sorry something went wrong with your subscription
Please, try again in a couple of minutes
See more In-depth
- 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/. Accessed Oct. 25, 2022.
- Going meatless once a week. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/vegetarian-and-special-diets/going-meatless-once-a-week. Accessed Oct. 25, 2022.
- Vary your protein routine. U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.myplate.gov/tip-sheet/vary-your-protein-routine. Accessed Oct. 25, 2022.
- Protein foods. U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/protein-foods#mp-container-706352. Accessed Oct. 25, 2022.
- Parker HW, et al. Diet quality of vegetarian diets compared with nonvegetarian diets: A systematic review. Nutrition Reviews. 2019; doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuy067.
- Craig WJ, et al. The safe and effective use of plant-based diets with guidelines for health professionals. Nutrients. 2021; doi:3390/nu13114144.
- Picking healthy proteins. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/meat-poultry-and-fish-picking-healthy-proteins. Accessed Oct. 25, 2022.
- How does plant-forward (plant-based) eating benefit your health? American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/how-does-plant-forward-eating-benefit-your-health. Accessed Oct. 25, 2022.
- The benefits of beans and legumes. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/the-benefits-of-beans-and-legumes. Accessed Oct. 25, 2022.
- What is the Mediterranean diet? American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/mediterranean-diet. Accessed Oct. 25, 2022.
- Thrifty food plan, 2021. U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.fns.usda.gov/cnpp/usda-food-plans-cost-food-reports. Accessed Oct. 26, 2022.
- Dietary Reference Intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. https://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309085373. Accessed Nov. 3, 2022.
- Zeratsky KA (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. Nov. 3, 2022.