By Sue Dibb, Coordinator of Eating Better
A healthier and more sustainable diet can improve our own health, whilst also contributing to the general wellbeing of our communities and of the natural world. In 2015, Eating Better is encouraging everyone to take the Eating Better Challenge and enjoy tasty, affordable and healthy meals by incorporating more plant-based foods and less meat into everyday eating.
The idea of reducing the amount of meat you eat, without cutting it out completely – also called ‘flexitarian’ eating – is growing in popularity. YouGov research for Eating Better, published at the end of 2014, found over a third of the British public (35%) are willing to consider eating less meat, with 20% already cutting back.
Many people cite health as a key reason to reduce their meat consumption, and the Department of Health recognises that eating less meat and more plant-based foods is a great way to help your heart, and for high meat consumers, reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Other key reasons for eating less meat include:
- Reducing costs
- Concerns about the impacts of livestock production on climate change and the environment
- Animal welfare
Strong evidence now exists about the need to shift diets towards reduced levels of meat-eating among high consuming countries, like the UK, in order to help address climate change, promote public health and help feed the world more fairly and humanely. High levels of meat consumption – particularly red and processed meats – are associated with increased risks of bowel cancer and heart disease. Concerning bowel cancer, the Department of Health advises that people who eat more than 90g per day of cooked and processed red meat should reduce their intake down to 70g per day.
When we think about the environment, the livestock industry is a massive contributor to greenhouse gases which increase global warming. Greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock sector are estimated to account for 14.5% of the global total; more than direct emissions from the transport sector.
At Eating Better, we’re working to understand how best to shift our food culture towards less and better meat, as well as more plant-based eating. Last year we commissioned a literature review of relevant consumption patterns, trends, and people’s attitudes and behaviours. Our report 'Let’s Talk About Meat: Changing dietary behaviour for the 21st Century' (published in December 2014) identifies ten ways to motivate behaviour change towards less and better meat eating. Promising drivers include concern for health, concern for farm animal welfare and the cost savings of eating less meat.
If you would like to eat less and better meat to help make your diet more sustainable, following Eating Better’s top tips will show you how simple tweaks to everyday meals can save you money and make meals healthier.
Eating Better Challenge Top Tips
- Use half the meat in curries, casseroles and stews and double the amount of vegetables. Add a tin of beans or lentils and extra vegetables to a curry or a stew. Grate a courgette or carrot into pasta sauces.
- Replace some or all of the mince in spaghetti bolognaise, cottage pie and lasagne with Quorn or other meat substitutes.
- Buy smaller portions of meat and use them to add flavour, rather than as the main ingredient.
- Try eating more meat-free meals and having one or two meat-free days each week. Look out for veggie options, or make veggie versions of your favourite dishes like vegetable curry. Go easy on the cheese though, as it’s high in fat.
- If possible, use the money you save from eating less meat to choose meat that is free-range and outdoor reared and produced to higher animal welfare standards, such as Freedom Foods or organic.
Meanwhile, Eating Better is making recommendations to governments, businesses, researchers and civil society organisations to help drive behaviour change toward healthier and more sustainable eating. For example, we’re encouraging caterers to provide reduced meat and no-meat choices on their menus, and for supermarkets to offer a greater range of meat-free choices on their shelves.
By providing tasty and affordable alternatives, reducing our meat consumption needn’t feel like a sacrifice.
Sue Dibb (pictured left) is the coordinator of Eating Better, an alliance of 43 organisations encouraging healthy and sustainable eating. Find out more: