Why and how to eat less meat

Healthy Proteins

Rethink food with less meat!

For a few years now, this food seems to be running out of steam. We’ve noticed a continuous decrease in meat consumption, in particular, red meat (beef, pork, liver and lamb). In fact, 33% of Canadians, or close to 12 million residents, confirm they’re vegetarians or say that they’ve reduced their meat consumption.

By contrast, we’ve noticed a greater availability of vegetarian food. To date, this industry is booming. According to nutritionists, celebrities or newscasters, whether it’s in grocery stores or bookstores, vegetarian food is trendy. The United Nations even designated 2016 as Year of the Pulses!

Arctic Gardens focused on the topic by conducting a study among 1,794 people across Canada in July. We wanted to understand people’s eating habits when it comes to their meat consumption and their interest in vegetable proteins.

There are many debates around meat and its dangers, but is it really dangerous to eat meat? Are vegetable proteins really as nutritious? Can we live without meat? To help you make better choices when it comes to proteins at mealtime, we wanted to be completely transparent in answering these questions. After much research, we’ve written an informative article about this food trend.

Why eat meat?

Red meat

From traditional recipes to contemporary ones, meat is predominant in our diet. Let’s see why it has such an important place in balanced food choices for Canadians.

Precious vitamins and minerals

Did you know that a serving of unprocessed, high quality meat is one of the most nutritious foods?

Here’s what a 100 g serving of raw lean ground beef represents (10% fat content):

Vitamins and minerals
Daily intake
Iron25 %
Zinc32 %
Selenium24 %
Vitamin B325 %
Vitamin B618 %
Vitamin B1237 %


Even though it’s possible to find proteins almost everywhere in our diet – as much in animal-based as vegetable-based foods – it’s important to know that animal-based foods contain all essential amino acids making meat a very good quality protein. Animal proteins are also more easily digested.

But what are amino acids? They are essential to our bodies because they transport and store all nutrients like water, carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, vitamins and minerals.


Historically and even still today, people think that fat causes many illnesses, so is bad for us, but lipids store the most energy and are e-s-s-e-n-t-i-a-l to our proper functioning. For example, without lipids, some vitamins can’t be absorbed.

Meat is considered a food that’s rich in fat. It’s made up of saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Since a balanced diet promotes eating only a small amount, we must avoid consuming an excess of red proteins. On the other hand, all meats are not equal. Some cuts are much leaner than others, so it’s better to choose a lean meat that won’t eliminate all the benefits that they provide.

Why eat less meat?

Vegetarian Food

Choosing to eat less meat is to start discovering new tastes and new foods all for our health and our budget.

We asked Canadians what would motivate them to lower their daily meat consumption. Here are the five main reasons, from the most to the least important:

To make meals more interesting

For 36% of those surveyed, adopting a part-time vegetarian style is simply to add variety and diversify the menu. It’s an excellent way to integrate this way of eating and discover new foods.

It’s more economical

Saving money is the second reason that inspires Canadians to adopt a diet with less meat. In fact, 27% choose saving money over eating meat, even if they live alone.

This isn’t surprising as we’ve seen an increase of the price of meat at the grocery store over the last few years. In fact, since 2012, the cost of beef has increased 30%. As grains and legumes are more affordable and can be stored longer, we can see why the veggie movement seems to taking root in our kitchen!

Here’s an example of price for an animal protein versus a vegetable protein:

 Unit price
Price per 100 g 
Can of red beans540 ml$1.9937¢ / 100 g
 Package of extra lean ground beef1 kg Environ $16 to$17$1.68 / 100 g

To feel better

Among those who lowered their meat consumption, many have adopted a meatless diet for their health. According to our survey, 19% of Canadians say they feel better when they eat less meat. Furthermore, we noticed that the reason is more important for people 45 years and older.

In reality, a vegetarian diet is a very good choice for your health. Veggie meals provide an important source of nutrients and are a good source of energy. We know they are high in fiber, antioxidants, magnesium, potassium and vitamins C and E. As well, they contain less saturated fat and cholesterol which decreases the risk of developing certain illnesses.

Those who adopt a vegetarian menu often have a tendency to consume more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts compared to those who don’t maintain a vegetarian diet.

For the well-being of animals

Rearing conditions of livestock sometimes make us think about the food choices we make and that’s why 6% of Canadians choose to avoid meat.

Know that it’s still possible to eat a little bit of everything while respecting animals. Take advantage of small, local producers or the neighbourhood butcher. Organic meat doesn’t have antibiotics, hormones and pesticides and animals are often raised in a healthier way. However, be prepared to pay a little more, but reducing your meat consumption is a good compromise!

It’s better for the environment

Eating less meat is an important gesture for the environment. Concretely, you help lower greenhouse gas effects, save water and reduce air and soil pollution.

True or false

In nutrition, sometimes it’s hard to take a firm stance. While we’ve just seen that meat has interesting nutritional qualities, lowering consumption is also beneficial.

Remember that it’s not about being a meat freak or a tofu guru, but simply recognizing that vegetable proteins combined with a little meat or other animal protein can improve your diet. After all, who said that you have to have meat at every meal? Proteins, yes, but not necessarily meat proteins.

We’ll attempt to validate ideas about meat consumption and vegetarianism. Then you might be convinced to adopt meatless meals by eating just enough animal proteins :).

A vegetarian diet can lead to iron deficiency

Iron and Vitamin C

FALSE. The best sources of iron don’t only come from red meat, but also from whole grains, dried fruits, legumes and dark green vegetables.

Just remember that the iron found in plant foods is less easily absorbed than the iron found in meat, or heme iron. According to dietitian-nutritionist Cora Loomis, your body will adapt and absorption will improve over time.

Furthermore, to benefit from all that iron has to offer in plant foods, ensure you add vitamin C to every meal. Also, during your meals, avoid eating inhibitors like coffee, tea and cocoa. Vitamin C will increase iron absorption by about 30%. Integrate tomatoes, strawberries, kiwi, broccoli, sweet peppers or orange juice to your meals.

 Vegetable protein sources have little protein

FALSE. Who said that you can’t find enough protein in vegetables? That’s probably one of the biggest myths around vegetarianism. Know that vegetable proteins alone can meet all your nutritional needs. The only condition is to balance your diet by eating several vegetable protein sources throughout the day. Researchers affirm that a varied diet can provide all the essential amino acids without having to eat meat!

Here are 10 vegetable protein champions:

10 vegetable protein champions

* These are complete protein. They have all the essential amino acids.

Remember that daily protein requirements are 46 g for women and 56 g for men.

Vegetable proteins must not be combined

TRUE. Combining vegetable proteins with a grain product or nuts/grains at every meal is no longer necessary. For many years, research indicated that various protein sources must be combined within the same meal in order for them to complete each other and thus supply our bodies with the amino acids needed. However, this is not the case anymore because it can be done with a variety of foods consumed throughout the day. Varying your diet is good enough.

Going vegetarian helps you lose weight

FALSE. Although our bodies benefit from veggie foods (low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol), they don’t really help us lose weight. Some people mistakenly believe that it’s a “diet” whereas going meatless doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll lose weight.

As caloric intake is lower, it’s important to find another way to meet your energy needs. If not, there will be a nutritional imbalance which could, in turn, be harmful to your health. First and foremost, if you don’t eat meat, replace it with something else and not just anything!

Eating meat causes cancer

FALSE. What can increase the risk of some cancers, namely colorectal cancer, is a diet that includes a lot of red meat and processed meats such as bacon, ham, cold cuts, sausage, etc. Basically, it’s the big red meat eaters that are at the highest risk of developing certain illnesses or cancers.

Several studies show that there is a link between the overconsumption of red meat and the appearance of certain cancers (colorectal and stomach). In fact, eating red meat every day (100 g/day) increases the chances of getting cancer by 12% to 15%, whereas it increases to 49% for a serving of 25 g per day for processed meats.

But how can it be carcinogenic? It’s mainly because of the preservatives used and the presence of a large amount of iron. As well, the way meat is cooked also affects the risks. For example, overcooking meat produces harmful substances that are associated with several cancers (breast, colon, rectum, esophagus, stomach, prostate, etc.).

Eating meat makes you gain weight

FALSE. We often associate eating meat with gaining weight. Yes, it’s true that meat is high in fat and calories, but they don’t make you gain weight if you’re healthy. It’s important not to eat too much and to choose the right cut.

Note that the fat content in meat depends on the animal, cut and cooking method.

Eating meat gives you high cholesterol

Ground beef

TRUE, but only if you eat too much! Saturated and trans fats are found mainly in animal-based foods (dairy products and meats) and can compromise cardiovascular health. In fact, these fats are responsible for higher cholesterol in blood when consumed in very large quantities. It’s actually red meat and processed meats that are the worst for your health. They lower the level of good cholesterol while increasing the bad.

It’s hard to take a position on this topic, but saturated fat wouldn’t be the only victim. People’s lifestyles are factors that can’t be ignored like physical activity, smoking, alcohol, eating enough vegetables, etc. As well, it’s often abuse that provokes increased risks.

So you must have a balanced diet and eat less saturated and trans fats, and benefit from the good fat that come from oils, nuts, grains and fish. This will help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease!

Eating meat gives you diabetes

TRUE, but only for certain meat. It would take a significant consumption of red meat and more particularly, processed meats that would lead to risk of diabetes. People who eat these products daily increase their risk of developing diabetes by 19%. For processed meats, the risk increases to 51% for 50 g per day. Several researchers state that an acidic diet also increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. Among the most acidic foods are meat, dairy products and cheese.

To decrease risk, replacing meat and especially processed meat with other proteins a few times a week while moderating consumption of acidic foods is recommended.

Semi-vegetarians is the heart of a healthy diet

Protein Foods Group

Even if meat is unnecessary, it still has interesting nutritional properties that hold its place in a healthy, balanced diet. In fact, research has shown that consuming enough lean proteins stabilizes blood sugar levels, increases satiety, as well as preserves muscle and bone mass.

In proper amounts, animal protein complements a diet balanced with fruits and vegetables, dairy products, grains and alternatives. If the four groups are eaten in sufficient and moderate servings, iron, calcium and vitamin B12 deficiencies can be prevented. It’s important to understand that the risks associated with meat are often the result of excessive consumption.

Being a semi-vegetarian, or more commonly called flexitarian, is a good compromise to lower your meat consumption, but what is it? A flexitarian integrates a vegetarian diet without avoiding meat. Those who adopt this way of eating also adopt a varied diet by making a place for vegetable proteins and eating meat less often, but when they do, it’s a quality protein! There aren’t really any rules when it comes to how much or how often meat is consumed. It’s up to you to find your balance according to the recommendations :).

 Meatless Mondays – interested?

We asked participants if they knew about Meatless Monday and 71% responded a little or not at all. This international movement encourages people to reduce their meat intake one day a week, Mondays. This initiative has positive significant benefits on people’s health and even the environment and animals, so why not join in?

Depending on your schedule, it could be Meatless Tuesdays or Saturdays. Whatever you want! 🙂 Nevertheless, it looks like starting the week without meat would increase the chances of lowering consumption during the week.

Also know that some daycares and schools have adopted this concept!

Focus on recommendations

What is a serving of meat compared to a serving of an alternative?

A serving of cooked meat equals 75 g or ½ cup of 2 ½ oz. Visually, this is about the size of your palm or a deck of cards.

When it comes to meat alternatives, servings vary from one food to the next.

Here is a reminder of the official recommendations for meat alternatives according to the Canadian Food Guide:


For the meat and alternatives group, don’t forget that the recommendations per day are two servings for women and three for men.

What are the weekly recommendations for meat?

For a healthy and balanced diet, it’s better to limit yourself to one or two servings of red meat per week. Remember that a serving equals 75 g.

If you’re a huge meat lover, try replacing it with chicken, turkey or even fish because they are lower in saturated fat. On the other hand, according to many nutritionists, veal would be the most beneficial for your health. Veal is the king of meats because it’s high in protein, vitamins and iron. Also choose lean cuts like roast, loin, boneless strip loin or sirloin. Buy less, but better quality!

When it comes to processed meats, avoid them as much as possible because they contain the highest quantities of salt and unhealthy fat. Commercial cold cuts, as well as red meat, are the most likely to compromise your health.

What are good alternatives to meat?

Today, the food industry offers a large variety of products, so it’s possible to explore new flavours to make the healthiest choices – without straying too far from your traditional diet either.

There are several solutions to fill up on proteins! According to a survey, the vegetable protein that is very popular with Canadians is legumes. In fact, 28% like to integrate it into their meatless meals. Eggs are a close second with 20%, followed by nuts and seeds at 17.5%. Note that fish and seafood, Greek yoghurt, quinoa, tofu and tempeh are also good sources of protein to replace meat.

You should also discover soya in all its forms! It’s the most complete protein in the plant world and is most like the ones found in meat. It has good fat, iron, zinc, calcium and no cholesterol, just like other legumes. You can enjoy it as tofu, edamame or soya milk.


The key to a healthy and preventive diet is to vary your proteins. Don’t hesitate to alternate between vegetarian and meat menus or cook recipes that are half meat and half tofu, for example. The important thing is to find balance while remembering that meat must be consumed in moderation to enjoy its nutritional benefits. Not only will you save money and be healthier, but a varied and balanced diet will help you discover new taste and new recipes! So what are your favourite meatless meals?

Benefits of vegetarians food and meat


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