Monday, May 12, 2014

Meatless Mondays: Easier than You Think

[Reprinted from Health First Network Flyer - February 2014]

By Allison Tannis BSc MSc RHN

It’s a global phenomenon worth being a part of. Meatless Monday is an initiative to encourage people to eat less meat to better their health and the environment. The concept is to not eat meat one day a week. Why? One day is about 15% of a week – the exact percentage of saturated fat (found in animal products) that should be lowered in our diet according to the Surgeon General.

Celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Paul McCartney have helped increase awareness about the health and environmental benefits of going meatless. Since its revival in 2003, awareness and active participation in Meatless Monday has spread reaching countries around the world including Israel, Japan, Brazil and Norway.

Meatless Health Benefits
Going meatless is easy on your body. Nutrition experts have been encouraging us for years to cut down on how much saturated fat and cholesterol we eat and to increase our consumption of plant-based foods (vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds). This meatless movement is fueled by a growing number of research studies concluding that eating less meat has health benefits.

Meatless meals may lower your risk of some diseases. In 2012, British researchers reviewed evidence for vegetarian and low-meat diets and reported both were linked with a lower risk of coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes. They also found that evidence suggests eating processed meat increases the risk of coronary heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. In conclusion, the researchers suggest eating a meatless diet (vegetarian) or a diet that focuses on plant-based foods but still involves eating some animal products.

A vegetarian diet may be a hidden fountain of youth. A large study, called the Adventist Health Study 2, involving over 73,000 people ages 25 and older looked to find links between diet and the causes of death and disease. The researchers found that vegetarians (including vegan, lacto-ovo-, pesco- and semi-vegetarian diets) were 12% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, diabetes and kidney disease compared to non-vegetarians. There is compelling evidence for all of us to include some meatless days in our diet. In fact, the American Heart Association, National Cancer Institute and World Health Organization recommend various versions of meat-less diets.

Whoa, men – there’s more! The researchers of the Adventist Health Study 2 found the beneficial associations between a vegetarian diet and mortality were stronger in men than women. Perhaps its time to re-think tailgating with beef-covered barbeques and other man-hood ties between men and meat.

Quick Meatless Swaps
When going meatless it is important to seek out certain key nutrients in meatless alternatives to avoid any nutrient deficiencies.
Calcium: Swap dairy products for fortified dairy-free milks (soy, rice, almond), which contain about the same amount of calcium as dairy. Calcium is also found in beans, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin B12: Swap animal meat and eggs for fortified breakfast cereals, veggie burgers and vitamin B12 supplements.
Protein: Swap your meat-based protein for these protein-rich plant-based foods: beans, whole grains, seeds and nuts.

Environmental Impact of a Meatless Day
Going meatless is easy on the environment. According to experts, getting meat onto your plate takes a toll on the environment. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions are generated by the meat industry. Meat production also appears to use a lot of water: producing one pound of beef requires an estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water compared to 220 gallons for the same amount of soy tofu. Estimates also suggest it takes almost twenty times more fossil fuel energy to produce beef than plant-based protein.

There are no exact statistics on vegetarians in Canada but statistics out of Britain and the United States suggest about two percent of the population is vegetarian. But, going meatless doesn’t mean you have to be a vegetarian. Experts have shown that even just as little as adopting Meatless Monday’s into your lifestyle has many healthy benefits to your body and the environment. Not sure where to start your meatless menu? Try a bean-based soup, a meatless chili or vegetable pizza for dinner.

Recipe: Black Bean and Spinach Soup

1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup diced onion
 ½ cup diced bell peppers
1 garlic clove, finely minced
3 cups (or cans) of black beans
5 cups of vegetable broth
½ tsp allspice
¼ tsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 cups finely shredded fresh spinach leaves

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add in onion, bell peppers and garlic. Sauté until vegetables are tender. Add the beans, broth, spices, salt and pepper. Simmer for about 40 minutes or until beans and vegetables are tender. Season the soup with vinegar. Add spinach and simmer for 5 about minutes or until leaves are wilted and cooked. Serve and enjoy.


McEvoy CT et al. Vegetarian diets, low-meat diets and health: a review. Public Health Nutr 2012 Dec;15(12):2287-94.

Meatless Monday

Orlich, MJ et al. Vegetarian dietary patters and mortality in Adventist Health Study 2. JAMA Intern Med. 2013 Jul 8;173(13):1230-8.

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