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Plant-Based Diets: Limiting Red and Processed Meats

Plant-Based Diets: Limiting Red and Processed Meats

There is a lot of buzz these days about vegetarian and vegan diets, and even if you are firmly in the “I could never live without meat!” camp, there are many health benefits to limiting red and processed meats in your diet. Valley Health clinical dietitian Elena Mullen, RD, member of our Nutrition Therapy team, recommends a diet high in fiber and low in saturated fat and sodium.

A plant-based diet fits these criteria, with meals consisting of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. It is also low in saturated fat and sodium.

“Specifically, I recommend limiting or completely eliminating red and processed meats,” Mullen says. “Not many people realize that processed meats are considered a Group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization, meaning that they are a known carcinogen. This is the same group as asbestos and tobacco.”

Processed meats include sausages, hot dogs, salami, bacon, ham, and smoked meat.

Red meat is classified in group 2A by the World Health Organization, which is the group for foods that “probably” cause cancer.

Choosing lean meats like chicken, fish, and turkey, and/or opting for plant-based foods can turn an unhealthy diet into a healthy one.

“By maximizing plant-based foods, you are getting foods that are high in heart-healthy fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and that are low in harmful components that are associated with cancer,” Mullen says.

Studies show that eating a plant-based, whole-foods diet can help reduce the risk of cancers, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cognitive decline.

Even without meat, you can still easily meet your protein needs through a plant-based diet. Plant-based foods that are higher in protein include:

  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Nuts
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh (fermented soy beans)
  • Edamame, and
  • Seeds (such as chia, hemp or pumpkin)

Curious to try plant-based dishes? Click here for two healthy recipes. 

Valley Health has six wellness and fitness facilities located across the region we serve, and degreed and certified fitness specialists, dietitians and health educators are available to help you meet your wellness goals. Click here to find a location in your community.