FOR MANY PEOPLE, a meal that doesn’t include red meat isn’t a meal at all. But when it comes to reducing cancer risk, meat may be the last thing you need.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that most Americans eat nearly five ounces of red meat a day. Yet over the past three decades, studies have repeatedly linked a diet high in red meat or processed meats like bacon with an increased risk of developing some cancers, including colorectal, renal cell, prostate and breast cancers. In fact, a study conducted by the National Cancer Institute and published in 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who heavily consumed red meat had about a 20 percent increased risk of death from cancer, compared with people who consumed little red meat.

The good news is that studies have shown that eating a diet heavy on fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds—and light on meat—is one of the best ways to reduce cancer risk, says Wendy Bazilian, a nutrition researcher and educator who runs a health and wellness clinic in San Diego.

You don’t have to go completely vegetarian or vegan to reap these benefits. Since 2007, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research have suggested that people limit their red meat consumption to less than 500 grams (about a pound) a week, which is roughly equivalent to eating a quarter-pound hamburger four times a week.

If that sounds challenging, Bazilian suggests starting out by picking one day a week to go meatless. “Think about how you can take your favorite recipe or meal and modify it,” she says. “Swap out burger night with veggie burgers or do pizza with vegetables or cheese pizza with a salad on the side. … It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition when it comes to becoming acquainted with a plant-powered diet.”

To get started, look below for a meatless recipe packed with veggies but sure to please the most devout carnivore. 

Spring Cassoulet

This meatless dish is packed with veggies and flavor.

Makes 7 to 8 servings, 6 ounces each


  • 1 head garlic
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 dried cayenne pepper, cut in half
  • 2 stalks celery, cleaned and sliced into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 medium-size leeks, washed thoroughly, root and dark green tops removed, sliced lengthwise and cut into half-moons
  • 1 medium-size carrot, cleaned, peeled and diced
  • 1 shallot bulb, peeled and diced
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 (15-ounce) cans cannellini or great northern beans, rinsed and drained, or 2 cups dried white beans, soaked for 4 hours
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 12 sage leaves, stemmed and chopped roughly
  • ½ cup white wine or water
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • ½ cup bread crumbs
  • ½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
  • 1 tablespoon butter (optional)

 Preheat oven to 375°F.

To roast the garlic, trim the top of the head and peel away most of the outermost layer of skin. Pour a small amount of olive oil on the palm of your hand and slather the garlic. Place in a small dish, cover with foil and roast until the cloves are soft, 30 to 40 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. With one hand at root, use other hand to squeeze out the garlic pulp, which should emerge easily. Set aside. Lower oven to 350°F.

In a deep skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat, add the cayenne pepper halves, and cook about 15 seconds. Add the celery, leeks, carrot and shallot and cook until slightly softened, about 6 minutes. Add the paprika, ½ teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste and stir. Remove the cayenne. Taste for salt and black pepper and adjust as you see fit.

Transfer the drained beans to a large mixing bowl. Season with the lemon zest and juice, sage leaves, wine and roasted garlic. Stir until the mixture is well combined. Taste for salt and adjust as you see fit.

Transfer vegetables from the skillet into the bowl of seasoned beans, and stir until well combined.

Grease a 9-inch casserole dish or a similar-size baking dish with olive oil or butter. Transfer the bean-vegetable mixture to the dish.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the parsley, bread crumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt. Cover the beans with the bread crumb mixture and dot with butter, if using.

Cover dish with foil and bake about 25 minutes, or until slightly bubbly on the edges. Remove foil and allow cheese to brown 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from oven and serve hot.

Recipe courtesy of The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook, by Kim O’Donnel. Reprinted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group. © 2010