Have you gone meat free today? You may be surprised to learn that giving up meat for just one day each week can have a significant positive impact both on your family’s health and on our environment.
Red and processed meat is associated with an increased risk of death from chronic disease. Specifically, fatty meats and many processed meats (such as prime rib, sausage, and hot dogs) contain high amounts of saturated fat, which can raise bad cholesterol and elevate risk for heart disease. Furthermore, consuming high amounts of red meat increases your risk of certain cancers, including colon cancer. Thus, omitting meat from your family’s meal plan just one day each week is a practical strategy for improving heart health and decreasing risk of cancer. Of course, it’s typically best for health and wellness if our dietary goal is balance and moderation of all foods. And certainly, there are many health benefits to including meat in your weekly diet, especially lean varieties. Lean meat is one of the best sources of protein, as well as an excellent source of iron and zinc. So, when your meals do include meat, choose cuts with “loin” or “round” in the title, as those are the leanest cuts.
The practice of consuming a more plant based diet can also benefit the environment. Estimates vary, but agriculture and livestock contributes an estimated 9% (epa.gov) up to 18% (Food and Agricultural Organization) of all greenhouse gas emissions. According to the National Resource Defense Council, if all Americans eliminated just one 4-oz serving of beef per week, the reduction in global warming would be equivalent to taking 4 million to 6 million cars off the road.
But “losing” meat once per week doesn’t mean you have to lose nutritional adequacy in your diet! Remember that in its place you have the opportunity to add incredible health-promoting foods such as whole grains, beans and lentils, and vegetables.
- Whole grains provide fiber along with a variety of vitamins and minerals. Try oats, whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta, or quinoa.
- Beans and lentils offer fantastic protein (16 grams per cup cooked) as well as fiber, folic acid, iron, and potassium. Try a taco salad with black or refried beans, or add beans or lentils to soup.
- Vegetables are nutrient powerhouses. Aim for a wide variety of types and colors, with plenty of dark green, orange and red. Try kale salad, roasted broccoli with lemon juice, or fresh bell peppers.
By Katie Sonnek, RD, LN