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Your dinner plate: A novel way to fight antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance has emerged as one of the world’s deadliest health crises. The spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is threatening the effectiveness of last-resort treatments for life-threatening infections.

You may have heard that the problem is partially driven by doctors overprescribing the medications and patients misusing them. But you might not realise that another contributing cause is the extensive use of antibiotics in animal agriculture, especially factory farming.

The wrong prevention

In some countries, up to 80 percent of their total antibiotics use is agricultural.i Consumers demand vast volumes of meat at the lowest possible prices. In turn, this puts pressure on suppliers to keep costs low. Unfortunately, too many of them have tried to achieve that by using antibiotics across whole animal populations to prevent disease and encourage growth.

This type of antibiotics use may promote growth in farm animals, but it also increases the development of drug-resistant bacteria that threaten health throughout the world. Those bacteria end up in the meat you eat AND can be present in water. Up to 90 percent of antibiotics may not be metabolised,ii so they can wash into streams through animal waste.

This can pose serious health concerns when you drink contaminated water or consume meat that’s not handled or cooked properly. A common example is when you eat undercooked chicken infected with salmonella bacteria and get food poisoning. And some bacteria can even survive cooking at higher temperatures.iii

Making an impact

As scientists and advocates work toward reducing antibiotic use on a global scale, there are several ways you can make a difference today:

The U.K.-based Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics notes that choosing whole grains, beans, lentils and vegetables instead of meat for just one day a week can help prevent heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes.iv And decreased meat production improves our environment by reducing animal emissions of harmful greenhouse gases.

First steps

In some cultures, eating meat with most meals has become a generational tradition. But in other healthy societies around the globe, meat represents a very small portion of an individual’s diet. Because what’s considered ‘animal products’ includes not only beef, poultry and fish (the animals themselves) but also their byproducts such as milk, eggs and cheese, restricting your intake of so many familiar foods can seem daunting.

But you don’t need to change everything overnight. For many people, moving to a whole-food, plant-based diet is a gradual process. Trying out ‘Meatless Mondays’ as an intermittent replacement meal can be a good introduction. Once you discover new dishes and ways to prepare them, you might find yourself motivated to transform your plate more completely.

Get started

Worried you can’t get sufficient protein from meatless diets? Think meat substitutes are limited to tofu? Can’t imagine giving up cheese made from cow’s milk? You might be surprised by how many alternatives exist and how common myths are easily dispelled by the facts. To get started, take a look at some credible nutrition facts on plant-based diets and find recipes for dishes that focus on whole, minimally processed ingredients.

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At Aetna International, our aim is to reshape health care across the globe by helping improve care quality, affordability and accessibility. We do this by raising awareness of critical health challenges facing the world and promoting effective solutions to combat and prevent them. We also make sure our members have the information and support they need to achieve their own best health. Learn more.

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