A plant-based diet is associated with longer life expectancy, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for you. Basically, a plant-based diet is the cure-all fad diet that’s not a fad at all. And, unlike a fad diet, you don’t have to completely annihilate your current eating habits. Instead, try making these small changes to your routine and grocery list.
Save meat for special occasions, but allow yourself one “special occasion” a week.
Moderation is key. Too much red and processed meat intake has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and higher all-cause mortality rates. If cutting out meat entirely feels daunting, set a reasonable limit for yourself instead.
There is nothing wrong with setting boundaries but indulging every so often. In fact, one of the shared traits among communities with longer life expectancy is reserving meat for celebratory purposes. Dan Buettner, an expert on “Blue Zones” (or, five regions around the world where people live longer), reports that individuals in these regions eat meat approximately five times per month.
Setting a reasonable goal makes it easier to stick with it, while still reaping the longevity benefits that a plant-based diet offers.
When you do indulge, get picky about the meat you buy.
According to the Sentience Institute, roughly 95 to 98% of meat on the market is factory farmed, which is a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Buying meat that is ethically sourced instead is better for the environment, and better for your health, too. This means that no harmful hormones or antibiotics were used, and you won’t end up consuming them by proxy.
How do you know when you’ve found the good stuff? Look for these three identifiers when purchasing meat: USDA Organic, Grass-fed, and Certified Humane.
Is buying ethically sourced meat more expensive in the long-run?
Admittedly, ethically sourced meat is more expensive. At first glance. However, when meat becomes a “special occasion” meal instead of a regular thing, there is more wiggle room to shift around your grocery budget.
If you are unconvinced, look at it this way—prioritizing healthy choices in the present could save on healthcare costs in the future. Studies show that grass-fed meat is significantly higher in omega-3 fatty acids, while grain-fed meat is higher in omega-6 fatty acids. What’s the difference? Well, Western diets are already high in omega-6s, and consuming too many can upset the body’s natural ratio and lead to inflammation.
Grass-fed meat, in moderation, is the key to enjoying the benefits of a plant-based diet without giving up meat entirely.
What about dairy?
When it comes to milk and cheese, it’s best to look for the same labels that you would on ethically sourced meat. Eggs are a little trickier. Egg cartons often have a variety of labels slapped on the package, many of which are just marketing techniques.
According to sustainable food policy expert, Kari Hamerschlag, consumers should be wary of buying eggs that simply say, “cage-free” on them. This is not a regulated term, and these chickens are typically kept in industrial spaces with no outdoor access. Instead, look for organic and pasture-raised, in addition to the Certified Humane label.
The most important thing is to do your best.
Nobody’s diet is perfect, and it can be overwhelming to try and follow all the rules, all the time. Instead, focus on making small changes and sticking to them. The cumulative impact of your small changes will ultimately be great.