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Men’s Meat-Heavy Diets Need Transformation

Sometimes the ways we were taught to eat, as passed down by the generations that came before us, aren’t as healthy as they could be.

In most western countries, people tend to eat greater amounts of red and processed meat than is recommended by national or World Health Organization guidelines. They’re also consuming too little fruit and vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains. What’s come to light as well — and sorry to point this out, fellas — is that men’s meat-heavy diets are responsible for 40% more climate-heating emissions than those of women.

Meat-eating in rich countries must be sharply reduced in order to tackle the climate crisis, largely caused by the methane and deforestation associated with cattle. That goal can be aided significantly if men open up their minds and hearts to flexitarian food selections with more plant-based items.

And it’s not as restrictive or difficult as it might sound.

Holly Rippin, a researcher at the University of Leeds who studied men’s meat-heavy diets, told The Guardian, “There are broad-brush concepts like reducing our meat intake, particularly red meat, but our work also shows that big gains can be made from small changes.” Rippin said the research did not assess why men ate more meat, but speculated that it could be because men tend to eat more food as well as more traditional meat-based diets.

Sweet on You?

The Rippin study also revealed that a quarter of diet-related emissions were from “optional” food and drink, such as coffee, alcohol, cakes, and sweets. Scientists on the team who studied the issue said policies to encourage sustainable diets should focus on plant-based foods, but, so, too, does switching drinks and cutting down on sweet snacks help.

Ingredients used widely in the production of highly/ultra-processed foods such as saturated fats, added sugar, and sodium have become markers of poor diet quality due to their effect on heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. It is estimated that ultra-processed foods contribute about 90% of the total calories obtained from added sugars.

What Does It Take to Switch from Meat-Heavy Diets?

In 2019, the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health brought together 37 world-leading scientists from across the globe to answer this question: Can we feed a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries? The answer was “Yes,” but it would be impossible without transforming eating habits, improving food production, and reducing food waste. The EAT-Lancet report was the first full scientific review of what constitutes a healthy diet from a sustainable food system and which actions can support and speed up food system transformation.

What would it take to eat in sustainable ways, especially for meat-heavy eaters?

  • Red meat and sugar consumption would be be cut by half.
  • Vegetables, fruit, beans, and nuts would double.
  • North Americans would eat 84% less red meat but 6x times more beans and lentils.
  • Europeans would eat 77% less red meat and 15 times more nuts and seeds.
  • The planetary health diet is largely plant-based and allows an average of 2,500 calories a day.
  • Individuals would be permitted one beef burger and two servings of fish a week.
  • Most protein would come from beans and nuts.
  • A glass of milk a day, or some cheese or butter, fits within the guidelines, as does an egg or two a week.
  • Half of each plate of food under the diet is vegetables and fruit and a third is wholegrain cereals.

The result of such a food consumption transition is striking. Veering away from a meat-heavy diet by following lots of these recommendations would save at least 11 million people a year from deaths caused by unhealthy food. It would also help to prevent the collapse of the natural world upon which humanity depends.

Pea-Based Pasta? Survey Says…

Sometimes references to “plant-based foods” seem abstract to people who’ve never been introduced previously to the concept. It’s a lot easier if we slow down the jargon and zoom in on a particular food favorite — something that’s familiar and comfortable, some menu item that invokes memories and calm.

So let’s talk pasta.

Occasionally, as a writer for CleanTechnica, I’m invited to try out new products that are being introduced to the market. That happened this autumn with ZENB Pasta, which is a single-ingredient pasta made entirely from yellow peas. The company wants to develop “decadent offerings that encourage people to infuse more plant-based food options into their diets without sacrificing taste and texture.” The product line offers gluten-free options with a pasta al dente structure to prevent clumping or stickiness — a nutrient-dense product with pea-packed benefits: 17 grams of protein, 11 grams of fibers, and 30% fewer net carbs than traditional pasta.

The company says that it offers the same taste and texture of regular pasta. But I didn’t want to be the only person to make that determination, so I held a dinner party for 12 people, and I included plant-based ZENB Sweet Carrot & Tomato Marinara, which is made using whole vegetables, and two styles of pasta: Rotini and Elbows. I asked participants to fill out an anonymous survey. Here’s what they said.

What are the first words that come to mind after you taste the pasta?

Yum! I love pasta. It’s okay. Chewy. Surprisingly tasty. This is warm and comforting. Taste and texture very similar to traditional pasta. If I didn’t know it was “special,” I would not have known the difference. Rotini — great texture, good flavor, Elbow — rather chewy, mild flavor, would go well with a different sauce.

What are the first words that come to mind after you taste the sauce?

The sauce was fine overall but could have had more spice. Very comparable to any other pasta sauce. Nice taste. Different, but acceptable. Good rotini, could improve elbow. It’s good — flavor and texture. The sauce was a bit bland. Yum. This has a good tomato taste. Very good.

Describe the texture of the pasta.

Pleasant. A bit chewy or tough. Needs sauce: texture is a bit thick. It’s not aldente; I don’t like aldente. The texture is chewy, especially the elbows. Rotini: perfect, Elbow: a little chewy.Smooth, creamy. Firm. Very similar to flour based.

How does the pea-packed pasta compare with traditional pastas you’ve eaten?

Couldn’t notice a difference. More flavor — the “pea” flavor is palpable and adds to the experience. Similar. Rotini: even better than most, Elbow: a little chewy. I knew I was not eating traditional pasta but thought the taste was pleasant enough. Pretty close. The pea-packed pasta was more tasty and flavorful than traditional. Very similar.

How does the sweet carrot and tomato marinara compare with other spaghetti sauces you’ve eaten?

I liked it!! It’s not as acidic as some others but very tasty. I like the use of whole vegetables (including the seeds and skin). Different, but not a whole lot different from the varieties. Good. Very good, nothing different. Couldn’t notice anything different. The carrots in the sauce are like the practice of Italian grandmothers, who prepared sauce this way. It’s better than adding sugar. Kudos. Very good. Very similar — the marinara with rotini was my favorite. The marinara could use some spices. Thinner than most, lighter in flavor.

How would you review these ZENB products, if you were writing an article?

Try it, you’ll like it. It’s good for you. An alternative for gluten free pasta. I was very surprised with the flavor and texture. I would purchase it. The fact that these are plant-based products, and reading the literature of ZENB’s mission statement, I would definitely buy these products and play with cooking, toppings, etc. to increase my personal intake of plant-based foods. The pasta and sauce are good substitutes for those who prefer not to eat gluten products. ZENB has developed a gluten free pasta that offers a satisfactory taste and texture substitute for pasta lovers who cannot process gluten. Their sauce offers a slightly sweeter flavor but would blend well with a protein source to add a stronger taste. I would describe them as comparable to any gluten product and just as tasty. Worth trying.

Final Thoughts about Moving away from Meat-Heavy Diets

Why did it make sense to include the ZENB pasta test within a larger article about men’s meat-heavy food intake? We know that lots of studies have tracked food production trends, plant-based dietary switches, and how food production causes 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. But there’s been less written about practical applications for plant-based foods that can replace traditional foodstuffs without compromising on taste or quality.

While most of my dinner guests offered positive comments about the ZENB products, especially the Sweet Carrot & Tomato Marinara, a few weren’t quite as enthusiastic about the texture. I take a bit of responsibility for that, as I attempted to follow the cooking instructions exactly, including total cooking time. My electric stove is slow to get to temperature and then rises above temperature, I think — it has a much less reliable temperature setting than my former 6-burner gas stove. I might recommend that the instructions on the pastas remind cooks to adjust to their own range’s idiosyncrasies.

Other than that, I feel pretty lucky. My non-vegetarian/vegan guests were exposed to plant-based foods and responded quite positively. It’s nice to have an opportunity to share ideas and to help others to reach beyond their traditional cultural norms, including what we eat. Maybe a few of the guys will choose a plant-based menu item the next time they eat at a restaurant.

These are small but important steps.

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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