Plant-based foods are growing in popularity across the country and becoming the focal point of a healthy, nutritious meal. While meat used to be the centerpiece for nearly every meal, whole grains, vegetables and legumes are starting to take over as people rethink their protein sources. Science plays a role in this shift, as many new studies indicate too much animal protein may increase the risk of certain serious diseases.
Here are the facts:
Heavy meat eaters may be more likely to develop cancer. Pancreatic, colon and breast cancer have been linked to heavy meat consumption.
Red meat contains high levels of saturated fats and cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease.
Some studies have found high animal protein intake is linked to early onset puberty in children.
Too much meat can add stress on the kidneys, and can cause kidney damage or even kidney failure because they have to work overtime to remove excess proteins from your body.
High dietary protein levels cause your body to excrete more calcium, which can contribute to osteoporosis.
Taryn Tennyson, R.D., L.D., an oncology dietitian at Piedmont, says to avoid overindulging in meat, it should be considered a side dish.
“Three-fourths of our plate should consist of plant-based foods like beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables and whole grains. These foods are naturally better than meat for our bodies. They provide significant amounts of dietary fiber and phytonutrients, which help with weight management and ward off heart disease.”
Tennyson also recommends replacing junk food and processed foods with healthier plant-based protein snack options like hummus with whole grain crackers or fresh vegetables, oatmeal with nuts, trail mix bars, bean salad, fruit and nut butter, or even whole grain cereals with a non-dairy milk.
“With the rising cost of food prices, eating more plant proteins can actually be helpful on your wallet,” Tennyson says. “Ounce for ounce, plant-based foods are typically less expensive than animal proteins. But like all things in life, we should aim for a balance and moderation in everything we do and eat.”
For a high-protein, plant-based recipe, check out Chef Nancy Waldeck’s Modern Day Bean Salad.