October is National Vegetarian Awareness month and a season change is a great time to reevaluate your diet and considering how to incorporate some meatless meals into
your routine. Here are answers to some common questions you may consider when going meatless:
We’ve heard a lot about meatless Monday, but does going meatless really provide health benefits? You bet! Here are just a few of the improvements you can expect when you decrease the amount and frequency of meat in your diet:
- Decrease in blood pressure
- Lower blood cholesterol
- Decreased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes
- Decreased risk of certain cancers and death rate due to cancer.
- Improved digestive health with increased fiber intake from fruits, veggies and legumes.
But what about protein – can I still get enough protein by going meatless? Absolutely. On average, we consume 1 ½ times the recommended amount of protein in this country – and the majority is coming from animal sources. Measureable amounts of protein are found in almost every food group (fruits have very little protein), so a balanced diet full of whole grains and veggies can definitely provide enough protein. Most individuals will do fine with 0.8-1.0 g protein per kilogram body weight as a daily guide, however, for athletes that may increase. See the protein calculator for athletes: eatright.org protein calculator
Does this mean I can’t ever enjoy meat? No. I personally think that a life without smoked brisket, fried chicken and brined turkey would be bleak indeed. Just start inching your way toward the “part-time vegetarian” mentality and plan your menu with meatless days interspersed with healthful meat-containing meals.
Are there any other benefits to going meatless? Definitely. Going meatless has an environmental impact on reducing our carbon footprint. For example:
- If a family of four skipped steak once a week it would be environmental equivalent of taking their car off the road for almost 3 months.
- If everyone in the United States went meatless one day per week, it would be equivalent to taking 7.6 million cars off the road. (source: http://static.ewg.org/reports/2011/meateaters/pdf/report_ewg_meat_eaters_guide_to_health_and_climate_2011.pdf)
- Swap out beans for meat in soups, salads, casseroles, tacos and enchiladas. (Instead of chicken in a soup, use Great Northern beans; Instead of beef in your tacos, season some black beans the same way as you do your meat)
- Mushrooms are the quintessential meatless substitute. From grilled portobellas instead of a hamburger patty, to sautéed in a spaghetti sauce, the savory, umami flavor and texture of mushrooms makes them the ideal meatless superstar.
- Try whole grains in your favorite casserole or soup recipe to add a satisfying chewiness and earthy flavor. Brown and wild rice work wonderfully in these recipes, as does bulgur or barley. Their versatility to blend and take on flavor makes them a healthful and cost-effective swap for meat.
- Up your veggie intake. If you’ve loaded your Panini with grilled zucchini, roasted red peppers and caramelized onions, you’ll never miss the meat. Adding in flavorful and aromatic vegetables to sauces, stews and pretty much any other dish gives your mouth something to chew and savor, and that is what makes a satisfying dining experience.
Here are links to some of my favorite meatless recipes: