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Eating less meat could help your wallet and the planet

Your food choices can have a pretty sizeable impact on your health — and that of the planet. Here’s what the latest research tells us about our meat-centric diet.

Meat and your health

A meat-heavy diet may set you up for completely preventable health problems. Studies have shown that eating less meat reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes and premature death. Conventionally-raised meat may contain hormones and antibiotics that scientists suspect may wreak havoc on your health. Then, there’s the pink slime, feces and ecoli in ground meat (yuck!). A further black mark against meat consumption: The World Health Organization has just labeled processed meat a carcinogen.

The upshot? Cutting back on meat can seriously improve your outlook for a range of diseases.

Save money with meatless meals

Want to save hundreds of dollars per year on your food bill? Skip the meat. A study published in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition found vegetarians spend roughly $750 less on food each year than meat eaters.

A quick trip to the bulk grains and beans aisle will show you what a bargain a hearty bean soup or chili can be compared to meat-based meals. Skip the pricey cuts of beef and chicken some nights and develop a crowd-pleasing repertoire of soups and stews like split pea, curried red lentil and minestrone. Add a fresh bread and dinner is served — for a fraction of the cost of steak or pork chops. Soups freeze well, so you can cook once and eat two or three times, another big saving on busy nights.

Meat and climate change

Your food choices dramatically affect how much your day-to-day life contributes to climate change. As you probably know, we are collectively spewing dangerous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and the climate we’re creating is making our children’s future look pretty scary. Everyone needs to pitch in to emit less carbon, and putting less meat on our plates can make a really positive impact on the outlook for the earth.

Lentils, for instance are full of protein, fiber and minerals but have just a small fraction of the climate impact that beef does.

How to shift to a diet with less meat

If you’re used to a meat-focused diet, you don’t have to quit cold turkey — pun intended. Start by making small choices to eat less meat, such as taking smaller servings or choosing meatless options when you can.

For example, when eating out:

  • Choose vegetable toppings on pizza
  • Try hummus instead of turkey in your wrap
  • Pick a vegetarian chili or soup in place of a meat one

At home, add in a few vegetarian meals to replace your meat-focused ones. Some easy meals to try:

  • Quesadillas or tacos with beans, peppers and tomatoes
  • Pasta with vegetables
  • Vegetable soups and stews

As eating plant-based meals becomes familiar to your family, add in more meat-free nights. Soon, everyone will become accustomed to meat as an occasional treat rather than a daily necessity. Your health, your bank account and the planet will thank you.

Here’s a link to our family’s favorite vegetarian chili recipe. Bon appétit!

Want to know more about eating healthy on a budget?

Check out my free guide, Affordable Healthy Food for proven strategies to save on the healthiest eats. You’ll find recipes for a few the above suggestions as well as actionable tips for finding the healthiest food for the least money.

Susannah Shmurak shares practical, money-saving tips about gardening, food and low-impact living on her blog, Follow her on Twitter, Google +, or Facebook.

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