Going vegetarian for one day a week for dietary or religious reasons is a small change in your diet that can improve your health and the environment. Going light on meat was the norm a few generations ago when meat was often consumed in side dish portions, while nutrient-rich beans and lentils, vegetables and whole grains took center stage.
Don't Just Cut Back, Add to Your Diet
Eating no 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, but adding beans or lentils to your meat-free meal also maintains an adequate protein intake. Providing about 16 grams of protein per cup 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, copper, riboflavin and vitamin B6.
Vegetables are also nutrient powerhouses and add color and texture to your meals. Try leafy greens such as 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- to 51-percent contribution. Going meatless one day a week, eating less meat and choosing organic or grass-fed meats all reduce GHG.