(MENAFN - Arab News) True, humans are omnivores, meaning our bodies are able to digest food of both plant and animal origin. Nevertheless, there are strong arguments to opt for a plant-based diet. And although there is no need to become a strict vegetarian or even vegan, cutting back on meat will benefit both your own health as well as the environment.
Studies on the harmful effects of (excessive) meat consumption are numerous. Not only does regular consumption of red meat increase the risk of a variety of digestive cancers - such as cancers of the colon, pancreas, esophagus and stomach - it also raises your chances of heart disease substantially. A recent study carried out by the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston was the first to link the consumption of red meat to a higher risk of premature death. It found that each daily serving (85g) of unprocessed meat raised the risk of death with 13 percent, while processed meat, such as hotdog, increased the risk with 20 percent. However, the study also found that cutting back on red meat resulted in remarkable health benefits.
Besides damaging our health, meat is damaging the planet too. The meat sector contributes substantially to the emission of greenhouse gases worldwide, which are known for causing global warming. In addition, the Amazon rainforest is disappearing quickly as the land is being used to grow animal feed and raise kettle to export to other parts of the world, including Saudi Arabia. One of the biggest environmental impacts of the meat industry is the vast amounts of water used for livestock production. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, it takes 2,400 liter of water to produce one hamburger and even 7,000 liter to produce a beefsteak! In contrast, only 40 liter of water is needed to produce a slice of bread.
Despite all this, it might seem hard to adapt your diet. Remember, though, that you don't need to make drastic changes: several small steps can make a big difference altogether.
Start with one vegetarian meal a week by joining the "Meatless Monday" movement. This American campaign was initially launched during World War I, when the US Food Administration urged the population to eat less meat to save for the army. It revived in 2003 for health and environmental reasons and has since turned into a global movement. Once you get used to having one vegetarian day a week, try to add another meatless day.
The next thing you can do is limiting your consumption of meat, poultry or fish to one serving a day. If you eat one of these foodstuffs during lunch, try to have a vegetarian dinner and vice versa. Make sure not to eat more than three portions of red meat a week in favor of other protein-rich foods such as poultry, fish, or - even more environmental friendly - legumes, whole grains and nuts.
Reduce your serving size. Meat is often at the center of the meal, but this is not necessary in order to prepare a delicious dish. Focus on vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, and add meat only to enhance taste. There are many ways to cook using less meat. Make a stew, for instance, and add plenty of vegetables to it. When making meatballs or burgers, add finely chopped onion, carrot, and parsley as well as breadcrumbs or even lentils to reduce the amount of meat. Add an egg for binding, and season with spices. Pizzas and pastas usually do not contain a large amount of meat either, and the same goes for many other Italian, Indian, Mexican, and Southeast Asian dishes.
If you are ready to go a step further, why not consider a flexitarian diet? Also called semi-vegetarians, these people predominantly eat a plant-based diet, but also consume animal meat from time to time. The term is somewhat vague, as it does not define how often animal meat is eaten. Hence, it is up to you; just keep in mind the favor you do your body as well as the environment by slashing meat consumption.