Are you a vegan? Vegetarian? Or are you not quite ready or willing to give up meat? That’s OK. But what if, for one day out of the week, you were to totally avoid meat and basically eat plant-based meals? That’s not asking too, much, right?
Meatless Monday isn’t some crazy scheme dreamed up by dietitians with nothing better to do. Rather, Meatless Monday is an international movement, founded in 2003, to help people start their week by doing something healthful (like eating vegetarian meals for one day). After indulging all weekend, why not get the week off to a good start by doing something good for you?
While the movement started in the US, with support from Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, people all over the world have jumped on the bandwagon — including Paul McCartney, I might add. Other well-known folks have gotten into it too, like chefs Mario Batali and Giada De Laurentiis, Emily Deschanel (from TV’s Bones), and Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group.
It’s hard to deny that a vegetarian way of eating is generally a healthy way of eating. But many people aren’t able or willing to forgo animal products altogether. Drastically changing your eating habits is hard to do and even harder to sustain. But we know that making small change like going meatless one day a week can provide us with a variety of health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
Also, cutting back on red meat and processed meat is linked to a longer life. Besides the health benefits, eating fewer animal foods can make a big impact on the environment, too. Eating less meat means fewer greenhouse gas emissions that can impact climate change. More plant-based meals also means that we save big-time on water (between 1800 and 2500 gallons of water are needed to produce one pound of beef, compared to 220 pounds of water to product one pound of tofu).
But what about diabetes?
Some of you may be wondering how eating more plant-based meals would affect your diabetes. Not eating meat (or any other animal protein foods, like chicken or fish, for that matter) sometimes means that you’re eating more carbohydrate, which, in turn could affect your blood glucose.
First off, a plant-based diet centers on, well, plant foods. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds comprise a plant-based diet. It’s very well established that people who follow a vegetarian way of eating can get all the nutrition that they need with some careful planning. It’s easy to get plenty of protein from eating plant-based meals, for example.
Second, it’s often true that when you eat more meatless meals, your carbohydrate intake may increase. The key here, though, is choosing low-glycemic-impact carbohydrate foods, including most vegetables, whole fruits, whole grains, and beans. (Click here to find out the glycemic index and glycemic load of many different foods.) These foods are not processed or refined, and that means that they are digested more slowly, helping to minimize a spike in blood glucose shortly after eating. Skip the fruit juice, the white rice, and the white bread. Get your protein from beans or lentils, as well as soy products. And always include a healthy fat source at your meals, such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, or avocado.
Third, vegetarian diets, in general, have been shown to help people improve their diabetes control and also lose weight. Vegetarian diets are higher in fiber than animal-based diets, which can help with blood glucose control and weight management.
And fourth, vegetarian diets can lower the risk for heart disease. Eating no (or fewer) animal products means that you’re eating less saturated fat, and eating more fiber and antioxidants that have a protective effect against heart attack, stroke, and heart disease.
But what would you eat?
Very likely, some of your meals are already meatless. For example, your breakfast might be a slice of toast with peanut butter — that’s a meatless meal right there. Grabbing a bowl of lentil soup and a whole wheat roll for lunch means that you’re practically a Meatless Monday convert. What else can you eat on Meatless Monday? Really, the options are limitless. How about:
• beany red wine chili
• chickpea and spinach curry
• Moroccan pumpkin stew
These are just a few of the recipes you’ll find on the Meatless Monday Web site. Don’t like these recipes? Do a search on the Internet or dig out one of your cookbooks. Look for recipes that are plant-based (no meat, chicken, or fish). If you want, you can even go vegan (no dairy or eggs, either.). It’s up to you. And remember, it’s one day out of the week. No one’s asking you to give up your holiday turkey or a juicy burger. But think of how good you’ll feel about yourself when you kick off your week by doing something good for yourself and the environment. Small steps yield big rewards!