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Spinach, Swiss chard and bok choy are some of the Best Sources of Potassium from the World's Healthiest Foods - even better than bananas!
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Should I Include Meatless Meals In My Diet?

Ever since 1977 and the United States Senate report on Dietary Goals, we've been asked to decrease our consumption of meat. During the 1980's, the emphasis was on choosing lean meats rather than fatty cuts. During the 1990's, the Dietary Guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services actually started telling us to limit our daily meat intake to 2-3 servings. But more recently, we've also been hearing many organizations, like the Harvard School of Public Health or Physicians for Social Responsibility, telling us we should move toward a vegetarian style of eating that includes meatless meals on a regular basis. So is it o.k. or not o.k. for us to eat meat on a daily basis?

Vegetarians Are Healthier Than Meat Eaters

Large-scale research studies, sometimes involving over 75,000 subjects, have repeatedly shown meat-eating populations to be less healthy than vegetarian ones. When large groups of people who eat no chicken, pork, or beef are compared to large groups of people who regularly eat these foods, the chicken, pork and beef eaters have consistently higher rates of arthritis, colon cancer, hypertension, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, obesity, and prostate cancer. While it's impossible to draw conclusions from large, population studies to the diet of any one particular individual, the trend here is to move away from routine meat eating if you want to decrease your risk of chronic disease.

Meat Is Limited In Its Nutrient Composition

We include lean, organic beef as one of the World's Healthiest Foods, and it is indeed a concentrated source of nutrients, including being an excellent source of vitamin B12. It also ranks as a very good source for numerous nutrients such as protein, niacin, vitamin B5, selenium, zinc, and phosphorus. If you compare lean beef to a vegetable like Swiss chard, however, the differences are striking. Swiss chard ranks as an excellent source of nine nutrients and a very good source of another 7 nutrients. The phytonutrient composition of beef is also very limited in comparison to a leafy vegetable like chard.

Another major consideration when comparing meat to plants is fiber. Animals have bones and muscles for physical support. Plants have fiber. By definition, the greater the percentage of animal products in our diet, the lower our intake of fiber. Since deficiency of fiber is related to many chronic diseases, including colon cancer, diabetes, and high cholesterol, many healthcare experts recommend a shift toward vegetarian eating as a way to lower our risk of these diseases.

Evaluating Your Personal Meat Intake

Before you can decide whether more meatless meals are for you, you need to ask yourself several questions about your current nutritional intake.

  • Are you currently getting enough fiber in your diet?

    If you're getting under 20 grams of fiber per day and you are having meat

    at every dinner meal, you should consider one or two meatless meals per week. The reason is simple. Virtually any whole, natural, minimally processed plant food will give you a sizeable amount of fiber in comparison to the zero grams found in meat. For example, replacing any type of dinner meat with beans and rice could boost your fiber intake 15-20 grams all by itself.

    If you're already having several meatless meals per week and getting under 20 grams of fiber, you may be taking in too many processed grains and too few of the non-grain plant foods on our website. (The same would be true if you were vegetarian or vegan and getting in too little

    dietary fiber).

  • Do you have special needs when it comes to protein or vitamin B12?

    An 8-ounce cut of lean beef provides about 64 grams of protein and 6 micrograms of vitamin B12. Those nutrient levels are very difficult to

    replace with an equivalent amount of plant foods. Most of us don't need 64 grams of protein at dinner or 6 micrograms of vitamin B12, since the Daily Values for these nutrients are considerably less. However, if you are a person with special health considerations when it comes to these two nutrients and consume meat on a daily basis, you should consult with a healthcare practitioner or nutritionist before opting for more meatless meals.

  • Are you at special risk for any chronic diseases?

    Since vegetarian populations have lower rates of arthritis, colon cancer, hypertension, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, obesity, and prostate cancer, you should consider more meatless meals if you are at special risk for these conditions.

  • Are there meatless meals that you would enjoy?

    At the World's Healthiest Foods, we place special emphasis on the pleasures of eating. Food should be delicious, and eating should be delightful! If a meatless meal is a meal where you feel like the tastiest component is lacking, you should think twice before jumping into a meal plan that is more vegetarian. Try to imagine all of the world's

    most interesting culinary traditions right at your fingertips. You may want to look over our website recipes as a starting point. How does Mediterranean Pasta Salad sound? Or Zesty Mexican Soup? Or Chinese Cabbage Salad? The term "meatless" makes it sound like something is missing from the meal. But a meatless meal should feel just as complete and inviting as a meat-based one. So if you decide to move toward more meatless meals, be imaginative! A meatless meal doesn't mean replacing a hamburger with a soyburger. (Even though soy foods can be great additions to your meal plan). A meatless meal means conjuring up a tasty combination, like our Moroccan Eggplant with Garbanzo Beans, or our Minced Carrots with Pumpkin Seeds. The idea is to look forward to new nourishing additions to you meal plan, not backwards to what's been left behind.


Fraser GE. Associations between diet and cancer, ischemic heart disease, and all-cause mortality in non-Hispanic white California Seventh-day Adventists. Am J Clin Nutr 1999; 70(suppl): 532S-8S.

Key TJ, et al. Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies. Am J Clin Nutr 1999; 70(suppl): 516S-24S.

McCullough ML, Feskanich D, Stampfer MJ, et al. Diet quality and major chronic disease risk in men and women: moving toward improved dietary guidance. Am J Clin Nutr 2002; 76:1261-71.

Willett W. (2001). Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy. Simon & Schuster 2001.

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