Slowly but surely, Americans are saying bye-bye to the burger, sayonara to steak and check you later to chicken.
According to projections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture released in January, this year meat and poultry consumption in the U.S. will fall to about 12.2 percent less than what it was in 2007.
Kate Kinne, a registered dietitian at Swedish Covenant Hospital and the writer behind Well Community’s Eating Well blog, is seeing more and more patients passing on meat, even if they’re not a committed vegetarian or vegan.
“I think people are just more aware of the health benefits of reducing meat intake and hopefully subsequently adding more plant-based foods into their diet,” Kinne said. “Although I don't think that everyone needs to be vegetarian, research does show that vegetarians have lower BMI, lower cholesterol and blood pressure and reduced risk for diabetes and cancers. Anything people can do to lower their saturated fat intake and increase their fiber intake is a great step.”
She attributes the decrease in meat consumption to a few trends:
For one, the USDA has shifted its recommendations from the food pyramid to the “MyPlate Daily Food Plan,” which illustrates a plate divided equally among fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins, emphasizing smaller portions, with half of each meal dedicated to fruits and vegetables. Since many physicians and dietitians base their recommendations on these guidelines, the information may already be impacting the general population.
In addition, with rising rates of diabetes, heart disease and other obesity-related illnesses, men and women are increasingly aware that health is dependent on diet.
The third reason, Kinne said, is the increase in healthier foods at grocery stores and restaurants.
“I think there’s more availability of grains like quinoa and other foods that you might not be used to seeing in the grocery store, as people become more aware,” Kinne said.
For anyone who is cutting back on meat, Kinne recommends replacing it with other healthy proteins like legumes, nuts and seeds, soy protein (tofu, edamame or tempeh), egg whites, skim milk, low or non-fat yogurt and reduced-fat cheeses. The Centers for Disease Control backs her up, recommending that protein make up 10 to 35 percent of a typical daily diet.
Still eating too much?
While the decrease in meat consumption is a good start, Dr. Anna Kulik-Carlos, a family medicine physician at Swedish Covenant Hospital’s Mayfair Clinic, said she has not personally noticed any decrease in recent years. She regularly counsels her patients to eat even less meat, as diet-related health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, are some of the most common conditions they encounter.
“Patients often eat a lot more [meat] than any doctors would recommend,” she said. “I still feel like I have to do a bit of teaching and preaching to most of them to decrease meat consumption.”
In fact, despite the decrease in meat consumption overall, according to a recent study by the Department of Agriculture and the Foreign Agricultural Service, in 2009 and 2010, the U.S. still lead the world in meat consumption — by a wide margin.
Nevertheless, Kulik-Carlos is hopeful and optimistic that, in the future, our culture will adopt a diet filled with fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as opposed to processed foods, sugars and fatty meats.
The best of both worlds
Kulik-Carlos’ vision may not be far off, as balanced, healthful diets become more and more popular.
In 2010, Chicago resident and registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner wrote the book, “The Flexitarian Diet,” which encourages an increase in veggie consumption, while still allowing for some meat.
Kate Kinne is a big fan of the book and many of the recipes.
“I love the concept of the Flexitarian diet,” Kinne said. “Basically, a ‘flexitarian’ is a flexible vegetarian, or someone who follows a mostly vegetarian diet, but still occasionally enjoys a burger at a cookout or ham on Easter Sunday.”
Kinne shared two of her favorite recipes from “The Flexitarian Diet.”
White Bean Chili
Chili is a great example of how veggies and beans can make a very hearty, satisfying meal.
1/4 yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp olive oil
1 cup no-salt-added crushed tomatoes (not drained)
4 Tbsp green salsa
1 cup water
1 cup canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 lime, juiced
1 small whole-grain roll
Saute onion, garlic, Italian seasoning, and cumin in oil over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, salsa, water, and beans, and bring to boil. Simmer 10 minutes, and serve with lime juice on top and whole-grain roll on the side.
501 cal, 11g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 1mg cholesterol, 239mg sodium, 81g carbohydrates, 17g fiber, 24g protein
Spicy Peanut and Edamame Wrap
A great option for packed lunches
1 Tbsp peanut butter
1 tsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
Dash of crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup shelled frozen edamame, thawed
1/2 cup shredded carrots
2 small (6-in) whole-grain tortillas
Whisk together peanut butter, oil, vinegar and red pepper. Toss with edamame and carrots, and wrap mixture in tortillas. Heat in microwave for 30 to 45 seconds.
402 calories, 18g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 459mg sodium, 58g carbohydrates, 10g fiber, 19g protein