I talk to a lot of people these days who say they are eating less meat and feel better for making the making the effort as they enjoy the adventure of switching things up.
It is true that a vegetarian diet has several benefits when it is properly balanced and nutrient-dense. However, just because a diet is “meat-free doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. Benefits can negated when the diet isn’t paired with a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, adequate rest, etc. Conversely, eating a diet containing meat is not always unhealthy. For example, eating a salad isn’t enough if you’re sedentary, eat a lot of high-sugar, salt, fat junk food, or smoke cigarettes.
Consuming an adequate number of calories and eating a variety of healthful food is just as important.
So, if you are not a committed vegetarian, but think that eating less meat would be a good idea, try this experiment. Eat meatless for at least one whole day. Here’s a way to do it.
The Meatless Monday trend that we hear about these days actually began more than 100 years ago, during World War I, as a way to conserve resources during wartime. They experienced a revival almost two decades ago – in 2003—as a way to improve vitality, both for human bodies and for the planet.
Benefits Directly for You:
- Eating less meat and more plant-based foods is good for your heart and shows a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Most vegetarian diets are naturally low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and have been shown to reduce heart disease risk. Epidemiologic data has shown that vegetarians suffer less disease caused by a a Western diet, including coronary heart disease, hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes, diet-related cancers, diverticulitis, constipation, and gallstones, among several others.
- Subbing plant-based foods for meat can help with weight management. Vegetarians typically weigh less as a result of a diet made up of fewer calories in the form of whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables – lots of vegetables.
- Eating more plants means eating more fiber, which many studies have shown is lacking in the Standard American Diet (SAD).
- Eating more plant foods, especially organic fruits and vegetables, results in far fewer foodborne illnesses, antibiotics, bacteria, parasites, and chemical toxins. All these things are much more common in commercial meat, poultry, and seafood. Vegetarians tend to have better eyesight, and have been found to enjoy longer and healthier lives, when compared to meat- eaters
- Achieving better athletic performance is possible. While most physically active people focus on protein intake, a high-carbohydrate, high fiber, low-fat and vitamin and mineral-rich vegetarian diet may be optimal for sports performance. This is surely a debatable issue, but the number or world-class vegetarian athletes continues to rise.
Benefits Indirectly for You
- A plant-based diet is better for the planet, as it requires less energy and farmland to feed a vegetarian. For example, producing ¼ lb of beef uses enough water to fill 10 bathtubs and enough energy to power an iPhone for 6 months. Skipping just one serving of beef a week for a year saves the equivalent emissions of driving 348 miles in a car. Livestock emissions account for about 15%of global human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. In the United States it’s closer to 33%.
- Ethical reasons regarding animal treatment are often a consideration when people choose to become vegetarian.
- Plant foods tend to be less expensive, except for a few delicacies, perhaps, which is money saved in the pocketbook.
So, back to the Meatless Monday idea.
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 longevity and those of the environment. Generations ago, when meat was often consumed in side-dish portions, while nutrient-rich beans and lentils, and vegetables, greens and grains were the mainstay of any meal.
Don’t Cut Back, — Add to Your Diet
Whole grain products, such as 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, and adding beans or lentils to our meat-free meal also maintains and adequate protein intake. They provide about 16 grams of protein per cup cooked, and are a great source of fiber, folate, iron, and potassium. They are also good sources of manganese, manganese, copper, and thiamin.
Vegetables, of course, are nutrient powerhouses and add color and texture to your meals. Be sure to include lots of dark leafy greens, such as kale, collards, bok choy, and broccoli for good plant sources of calcium and a host of other nutrients.
For more on the hows and whys of plant-based eating, check out these earlier blog spots.