Have you gone meat-free today? More and more people are
going vegetarian — at least for one day a week. This small change in your diet
can improve your health and the environment.
Going meatless one day a week started with the Healthy
People 2010 report from the United States Surgeon General, which recommended
lowering meat consumption by 15 percent, specifically to cut down on saturated
fat. This calculation works out to about one day weekly, so plan ahead and try making
Monday, or any other weekday, meatless. In fact, a few generations ago, meat
was often consumed in side dish portions, while nutrient-rich beans and
lentils, vegetables and whole grains took center stage.
Cutting back on meat intake offers many protective benefits.
Red and processed meat consumption is associated with increased risk of death from
chronic disease. Going meatless once a week can help fight the nation’s top
killer — heart disease. Fatty red meats and many processed meats are high in
saturated fat which raises harmful or “bad” LDL cholesterol. Consuming red meat
can also raise the susceptibility for certain cancers, including colon cancer. Studies
suggest people who eat less meat tend to be leaner and less likely to gain
weight than people with higher meat intakes.
Don’t Just Cut Back, Add to Your Diet
Losing meat one day a week is not only about subtracting
from your diet, but adding to it. Eating more whole grains, beans and lentils
and vegetables on your meatless day offers many health benefits.
Whole grain, unprocessed carbohydrates such as whole-wheat
bread, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, oats, buckwheat, quinoa and millet can help
prevent heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes. Experimenting with a new grain
choice on your next meatless day can provide fiber for normal bowel function, along
with a variety of vitamins and minerals that contribute to the nutrient density
of your diet.
Americans regularly eat more than enough protein. Adding
beans or lentils to your meat-free meal also maintains an adequate protein
intake. Providing about 16 grams of protein per cup of cooked, beans and
lentils are also a great source of fiber, folic acid, iron and potassium. These
nutrient-rich foods are also good sources of manganese, magnesium and copper,
riboflavin and vitamin B6.
Vegetables are also nutrient powerhouses and add color
and texture to your meals. Try leafy greens like kale, collards, bok choy and
broccoli for good plant sources of calcium.
Good for the Environment
The practice of consuming a plant based diet can benefit
the environment. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, livestock
was estimated to contribute to 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG),
with other estimates ranging from a 10 percent to 51 percent contribution.
Going meatless one meal weekly, eating less meat, and choosing organic or grass
fed meats all reduce GHG.
Reviewed October 2013