A new survey has found that more than half of Canadians are interested in eating less meat, and one third intend to reduce their meat consumption within the next six months.
The survey of 1,027 Canadians was conducted by a team at Dalhousie University, with the intention of examining people’s attitudes about meat consumption. It found that although many Canadians still regard meat as an essential part of their diets — especially older men — the majority are hoping to reduce the amount they eat.
The biggest reason they cite for wanting to cut back: health.
“I can’t remember the last time I saw a study that actually encourages people to eat more meat. It’s usually the opposite for a variety of reasons,” said study co-author Sylvain Charlebois, a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.
Price, environmental concerns and concerns about animal welfare are also common reasons why people might want to eat fewer animal products, according to the survey.
To Charlebois, these results reflect an overall trend away from meat eating and a growth in meatless alternatives. When he was young, vegetarians and vegans were relatively rare, he said. “They were considered as freaks of nature. Today it’s not unheard of to actually invite to dinner a vegan or go out to a vegan restaurant or to see vegan specials on a menu.”
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David Jenkins, a Canada research chair in the department of nutritional sciences and medicine at the University of Toronto and St. Michael’s Hospital, said that this switch reflects what’s been happening around the world.
Many countries, including Sweden, Holland, the U.S., China, the U.K. and Belgium, have emphasized that people should reduce the amount of meat they eat in their national food guides, he said. He expects Canada will follow suit in the upcoming new edition of the Canada Food Guide.
The standard health advice over the last few years, like eating more fibre, eating more fruit and vegetables and whole grains, slowly pushes meat off the plate, he thinks.
“I think all the things that we have been promoting are all the plant-based ones.”
How to eat less meat
Registered dietitian Kate Comeau said that she’s not surprised to see this movement toward more plant-based diets. “I think this is something that dietitians are very much in support of and something that we have been saying for many years.”
“It’s perfectly possible to have an entirely plant-based diet, if it is well-planned. And that goes for pregnant women, for children.”
Comeau, who is also a spokesperson for Dietitians of Canada, said that lots of people are looking to reduce the amount of meat they eat. “It’s not necessarily saying I want to be vegan tomorrow, but it’s saying, what are some strategies for my family that we can cut back a little bit?”
If you’re interested in eating less meat, a good way to start is to plan out your family’s meals for the week, she said. That will let you see which meals include meat and get you thinking of possible alternatives.
“Your family loves shepherd’s pie. OK, would you be willing or do you think you could try putting half meat and half lentils and doing your shepherd’s pie that way?”
This doesn’t affect the flavour much, she said, but would save you money and introduce more fibre to the dish. Similarly, crumbling tofu into chili or spaghetti sauce or adding beans might also be a good way of gently introducing meatless dishes, as they still have a strong flavour without meat.
She also recommends looking into cuisines, like Indian food, which have many meatless dishes.
Reducing meat can come with health benefits, she said.
“If you’re reducing meat, you’re likely replacing it with something else.”
If you’re replacing that extra meat with more vegetables, whole grains and other plant-based products, you’ll get more fibre and vitamins, she said. And consuming a lot of processed meats has also been associated with an increased risk of cancer.
However, she thinks it’s important to be well-informed if you’re making any drastic dietary changes such as becoming a vegetarian or vegan, to ensure that you get all the nutrients you need. Vitamin B12, for example, is only generally found in animal products and vegans might need to find a specific source or supplement to get this particular nutrient.
Consulting a dietitian can help, she said, and Dietitians of Canada also has resources on its website Unlockfood.ca.