It’s Men’s Health Month, the start of summer, and grilling season is upon us. To some men, now might seem like the wrong time to start eating less meat. It’s worth considering because of the potential impact on your health and your rising grocery bill. Several recent research studies have added compelling evidence to the less-meat-is-better scientific viewpoint. Here’s what the science shows, and how you can “painlessly” pare down your meat intake.
Certain types of cancer
A recently published British study of nearly 500,000 men and women segmented participants into regular meat-eaters (eating red meat, processed meat and poultry more than 5 times a week), low meat-eaters (eating meat and poultry 5 or less times per week), fish-eaters, and vegetarians. After following them for about 11 years and tracking which people got cancer, the researchers found that both men and women meat-eaters had a higher risk of all cancers compared to the other groups.
In the same study, the male participants who followed a low meat diet had a reduced risk for colorectal cancer. This confirms aspects of the 2015 World Health Organization and World Cancer Research Fund study that implicated both processed and red meat intake in the development of colorectal cancer.
Plant-based eating was shown to help improve the general health and cancer outcomes among men who had diagnosed prostate cancer, according to findings from a new systematic review of 31 published studies published in the Journal of Urology. The authors acknowledge, however, that population studies indicate that plant-based eating results in either a lower or equivalent risk for prostate cancer. Nevertheless, given the myriad health benefits demonstrated for plant-based eating, for men who are at risk of prostate cancer, considering moving toward a more plant-based diet could be a smart move.
Type 2 diabetes
Observational studies suggest that eating patterns that are higher in meat are associated with increased risk for Type 2 diabetes, compared to patterns lower in red meat. However, the results from experimental trials have shown mixed results—some show a link and some don’t. A 2022 meta-analysis of random clinical trials looking at red meat intake and diabetes incidence is consistent with previous meta-analyses showing that red meat does not impact most glycemic and insulin-related risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. There is also some professional disagreement between scientific authorities about whether decreasing red meat and processed meat (such as hot dogs and sausages) will reduce risk for Type 2 diabetes. Many observational studies do not differentiate between red meat and processed meat products; those that do tend to find a stronger association between processed meat and risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Vary your protein routine
The US Dietary Guidelines note that the intake of red and processed meats is associated with “detrimental health outcomes,” hence their recommendation to “vary our protein routine.” There is a wealth of scientific evidence showing that consuming lower-fat meats is better for decreasing risk of chronic diseases—you won’t go wrong if you limit processed meat products and select leaner cuts of meat.
Start to move meat off your plate
You don’t need to go strictly vegetarian or vegan in order to reap benefits from eating more fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Here are a few tips to get you started with trimming down your meat intake and boosting your plant intake:
- Plan menus around variety: explore the wide world of choices among fish and seafood, swap in nuts and seeds at snack time or as a topping for salads, yogurt or cereal; try out some soy products if you haven’t yet. Eggs are an economical choice and provide high quality protein, and they earn Guiding Stars!
- Embrace Meatless Monday: start eating more meat-free meals by joining the Meatless Monday movement. You can do dinner as meatless, or the whole day as meatless. Add more days as you get more comfortable.
- Check out the plant-based “meat” and burger-type products at your supermarket. You can compare their nutritional qualities using the Guiding Stars Food Finder tool online, or check for the stars on in-store signage and labels.
- Consider following the eating pattern templates provided in the US Dietary Guidelines. The “Healthy US-Style Dietary Pattern” includes moderate amounts of meat and other protein sources, the “Healthy Vegetarian-Style Dietary Pattern” does not include meat, but does include eggs and dairy, and the “Healthy Mediterranean-Style Dietary Pattern” includes small amounts of meat.