Editor’s Note: Shireen Hakim is an Amazon.com Best-Selling Author and AMHP Healthcare Coordinator in Southern California. This is an edited version of a commentary that originally appeared on UmmahWide and is republished here with permission. All views expressed here are solely those of the author.
Muslims strive to follow the Sunnah, by living and following many of the actions and examples of our beloved Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace Be Upon Him). We get closer to God by following his actions, such as smiling and donating to charity. What about following the Prophet’s eating habits? We also strive to eat like him, such as cooking with olive oil and enjoying pomegranates from our trees. We know that if he ate something it must have been beneficial.
However, one of his dietary habits is very significant for our health, but is mostly overlooked today. According to the Hadith literature (sayings and characteristics of the Prophet Muhammad), the Prophet ate meat very rarely, and when he did it was mostly on special occasions or as a guest. His habitual diet actually consisted of favorite foods like dates, water, vinegar, honey, yogurt, barley bread, and grapes. Meat was available only occasionally, and when it was he favored sheep’s shoulder/foreleg. The Prophet never ate his fill of bread and meat. As a guest he was once served gourd (pumpkin) and meat stew, and picked out the gourd to eat. The Prophet and companions looked forward to Fridays, because a local woman served them a meatless meal with a meat substitute. Early Muslims continued the Prophet Muhammad’s habit of rarely indulging in meat.
As the third Caliph Umar ibn al Khattaab notably stated: “beware of meat, for it is addictive like alcohol.” He once chastised his son for giving in to his craving and buying meat. Umar is a strong example for us as well. So in fact, eating little meat is the Prophetic Sunnah and follows early Islamic tradition.
Nowadays, our meat eating habits severely contradict the Prophet’s, Umar’s, and early Muslim society. There is a reason they ate meat occasionally: it is harmful when eaten regularly. Regular meat intake coincides with increased disease: heart disease, cancer, and obesity. Meat is a beneficial and permissible food, and we are blessed to have it available to us. However, we must realize that we are over consuming it, and reduce our consumption.
How did we come to think that eating meat daily is normal?
Our current meat habits mirror the Western diet, which has itself been tainted by times of war and political interests. Interestingly, early Americans also ate meat rarely. Then during World Wars I and II, meat was rationed. When peace returned meat was available again, and people mistook this luxury item for a staple. Unfortunately, as meat became part of the regular diet, heart disease and cancer rates immediately increased. Americans’ health declined so much that in the 1970’s Congress made Dietary Goals stating we should cut down on meat intake. However, meat lobbyists fought to keep meat included in US’s Dietary Guidelines. These lobbyists continue to relentlessly advertise and market meat rich ideology in our schools and nutrition programs. Therefore, we still think we need to keep eating meat every day, and that it is okay to do so. The indulgent Western diet is spreading to Asian and Latin American countries, reinforcing its façade of a normal diet.
Unfortunately, a meat rich diet is directly linked to the top causes of death in the US- heart disease, cancer, and obesity. Very high percentages of the population have these diseases: heart disease 11%, cancer 8.5%, and obesity 33%. In contrast, Americans that eat meat occasionally are significantly healthier. Flexitarians (those that eat meat a few times a week/month), have lower rates of heart disease and cancer, weigh 15% less and live about 3.6 years longer. Vegetarians do not eat meat, and weigh about 17 pounds less, live about 5 years longer, and have about 30% less cancer risk. Many people eat beef burgers, chicken wings, and meat pizza daily, suffer from a heart attack or cancer, and then strictly change their diet. Take a proactive approach and start eating healthy now, before you get sick.
So what do we eat instead of meat?
There are many delicious meatless proteins, and easy steps to take to introduce them in the diet. These proteins are: nuts and nut butters, beans and lentils, fish, tofu, eggs, milk cheese and yogurt, kale, brown rice, and quinoa. Each day, eat 5–7 ounces, or 4–6 servings of these proteins. Serving examples include: 1 cup of organic milk (8 grams of protein), 1 cup Greek yogurt (11 grams), 1 cup black beans (16 grams), 1 tablespoon natural almond butter (4 grams), 1 ounce wild salmon (5 grams), ½ cup non-GMO tofu (20 grams), 1 cup brown rice (5 grams), 1 cup quinoa (8 grams), 1 cup kale (3 grams), and 1 cup broccoli (4 grams).
These proteins are more beneficial and nutrient- rich than meat: in addition to protein, iron, and vitamin B12, they also contain monounsaturated fats, omega- 3 fatty acids, and fiber. Studies show meatless proteins improve strength in soldiers, and are easier to digest. These foods lower disease and mortality risks. They also boost metabolism, aiding in weight loss. It’s recommended to eat meatless proteins most days of the week, and meat (chicken or lamb) on one or two days. Follow these steps to incorporate a mainly meatless diet:
1. Join the popular Meatless Monday movement: go meatless on Mondays. 2. Incorporate favorite meatless dishes in your meals, and start eating them more often (like vegetable pizza, peanut butter sandwich, and bean and rice burrito.) 3. Make one meal a day meatless; then increase the number. Keep going until a whole day is meatless. 4. Stock your pantry and fridge with the proteins listed above so you always have options. 5. Go to restaurants that serve meatless meals like Chipotle, CPK, and sushi and Mediterranean restaurants.
Eating meatless proteins also saves time, energy, and stress. Meatless proteins are readily available at more locations and are always halal, therefore there is a wider selection of restaurants and grocery stores to choose from. Meatless meals improve our health and adherence to the Sunnah. It does not make one a vegetarian, and you can still enjoy eating meat.