So what's the best way to slowly but steadily cut back on eating red meat and processed meat? Here are some practical suggestions:
- Meatless Monday. Sid Lerner, 80, gets the credit for reviving a successful campaign used during both world wars to get people to reduce their consumption of meat to aid the war effort. In 2003, Lerner started pushing the concept to get Americans to take one day off from eating meat — not because of a war, but for their own health. The goal is to help people reduce their meat consumption by 15 percent. The now-global campaign has teamed up with Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health. Go to meatlessmonday.com for recipes and information.
- Vegan before dinnertime. Avoid meat at breakfast and lunch, but anything goes at dinner. That's the philosophy of New York Times writer and cookbook author Mark Bittman, who started this strategy in 2008. At the time, he had high cholesterol, borderline high blood sugar, bad knees and sleep apnea, and he was 35 pounds overweight. Becoming a full-time vegan was "both unrealistic and undesirable," he wrote, but he figured he could do it until 6 p.m. He eats fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes (beans, lentils, etc.) until then, and has meat with dinner. The result: He has lost 35 pounds, his blood sugar and cholesterol are normal, and his sleep apnea went away.
- Try the four R's — re-portion, reinvent, refresh and redirect. Registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, who blogs about nutrition for USA Today and is the author of The Flexitarian Diet, is a big believer in slowly increasing the amount of vegetables and beans in your diet, while still including some meat, poultry and fish. Here's her four R's:
Re-portion your plate by making it 50 percent veggies, 25 percent meat, poultry or fish and 25 percent whole grains.
Reinvent old favorites by taking your current favorite recipes and swapping out all or part of the meat with fiber-rich beans. (For each ounce of meat, substitute 1/4 cup beans instead.)
Refresh your recipe repertoire by trying one new vegetarian recipe a week. Check out vegetarian magazines, cookbooks and websites for ideas.
Redirect meaty cravings. To get that meaty sensation in your mouth, but without the meat, look for dishes that include ingredients like soy sauce, mushrooms, potatoes and tomato sauce.
Candy Sagon writes about health and nutrition for the AARP Bulletin.