Three important health benefits to eating less meat

Three important health benefits to eating less meat – By Aziwe Booi RD (SA)

Plant-based diets are gaining popularity for many reasons – health being one of the biggest. Over the years I have seen many of my patients benefit from reducing meat. In the week of World Heart Health Day I want to highlight what I see as the three of the most important benefits of eating more plant-based foods:

  • Heart Health
  • Gout Management
  • Healthy Weight

Heart health

As we know, there are two types of cholesterol: HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein). High LDL levels likely means you have too much cholesterol in your blood which will increase your risk of heart disease and stroke[1][2][3].

How will eating less meat help?

Saturated fats, which are hard at room temperature, are found mostly in animal products. These fats increase LDL and your cholesterol levels. A plant-based diet with less or no animal products will offer protein in the form of legumes, soy, beans and meat alternatives like Fry’s all of which are naturally cholesterol free. This means a diet lower in saturated fats and cholesterol. (Important to remember – not all plant-based food sources are better for heart health. Plant-based sources of saturated fat like palm oil and coconut oil should also be limited in your diet to manage your cholesterol).

Another benefit of eating more plants and less meat, especially if you are struggling with cholesterol levels, is plant-based foods are much higher in fibre than meat. Why is fibre important? HDL binds to the soluble fibre in your gut, giving your body the chance to excrete the excess cholesterol when you go to the loo. Make sure that you are incorporating at least 25-35g of fibre daily.


Gout is a condition associated with the inflammation and swelling of the joints which can be really painful. It comes from excessive uric acid in the bloodstream (known as hyperuricemia) which happens for a few reasons[4].Too much alcohol, excessive weight gain and genetics play a part – but so can eating too much meat[5]. Purine, which forms uric acid, is very potent in meat and meat products.

If you suffer from gout I recommend a reduced meat diet. Some people believe that gout sufferers should avoid soy products. I disagree. Recent studies show that soy can reduce the risk of gout (most especially if you are using them to replace meat).  A variety of protein sources like beans, legumes and soy-based plant meats, as well as diets rich in varied vegetables, fruit and quality non-refined starches will definitely help.

Healthy weight

Obesity can increase the risk of a multitude of health conditions. Unfortunately obesity levels are on the rise in South Africa with 69% of women and 31% of men classified as obese. Studies also show us that one in eight South African children under the age of five are obese.

There are many reasons for obesity, not all of them are diet related. But our diet does have an impact. Less healthy diets with high levels of sugar, excess fat in the form of trans-fats and saturated fats and low fibre foods will increase risk.

A simple way to shift this is to reduce meat intake and incorporate more plants into your diet. Meat products are generally high in saturated and trans fats and low in fibre. Plant-based proteins tend to be higher in fibre and lower in total fat – making it easier to cut down on your overall daily calorie intake which is important for healthy weight management.

Fibre for the win!

When you eat more plant-based foods, you will naturally increase the number of fruits, vegetables, and plant proteins. This means more dietary fibre. Not only does fibre make us feel full quicker and for a longer time, it’s also wonderful for our gut health which is really important for overall health and wellbeing.

All in all more plants and less meat is better for you and for your family!

[1] Yokoyama, Y., Levin, S. M., & Barnard, N. D. (2017). Association between plant-based diets and plasma lipids: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition reviews75(9), 683–698.

[2] Trautwein, E. A., & McKay, S. (2020). The Role of Specific Components of a Plant-Based Diet in Management of Dyslipidemia and the Impact on Cardiovascular Risk. Nutrients12(9), 2671.

[4] Jakše, B., Jakše, B., Pajek, M., & Pajek, J. (2019). Uric Acid and Plant-Based Nutrition. Nutrients11(8), 1736.

[3] Pirahanchi, Y., Sinawe, H., & Dimri M. Biochemistry, (2021) LDL Cholesterol. PMID: 30137845.

[5] Li R, Yu K, Li C. (2018).  Dietary factors and risk of gout and hyperuricemia: a meta-analysis and systematic review. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2018;27(6):1344-1356. doi: 10.6133/apjcn.201811_27(6).0022.