There comes a time in the life of every carnivore when it is hard to argue with the propensity of evidence that trimming down our meat consumption can be a healthy choice, even if it’s just for a meal or two a week. The truth is, adding some tasty meatless meals to your breakfast, lunch or dinner rotation can benefit your physical health, your budget and the health of good old Mother Earth.
Good for Your Body
When you eliminate meat from a meal, don’t think of it as taking away something, but instead, consider the wide variety of colors, textures, flavors and nutrients you are adding to your plate. And what’s more – reducing your meat consumption may reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Good protein The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends choosing a variety of protein sources, including eggs, low-fat milk and products made from it, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds. Incorporating beans or lentils into your meatless meals helps you maintain adequate protein intake – about 16 grams of protein per cup cooked. Nutrient-rich beans and lentils are also great sources of fiber, folic acid, iron and potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper, riboflavin and vitamin B6.
Good fat By going meatless, you are replacing protein foods that are higher in solid fats with choices that are lower in solid fats and calories. The fats in meat, poultry, eggs and high-fat dairy products such as cheese are considered solid fats, while the fats in seafood, nuts and seeds are considered oils.
Good grains Whole-grain, unprocessed carbohydrates, such as whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, oats, buckwheat, quinoa and millet, can help prevent heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes. Experimenting with new grain choices for your meatless meals can provide fiber for normal bowel function, along with a variety of vitamins and minerals that contribute to the nutrient density of your diet.
Good fruits and veggies Round out your meatless meal with a healthy serving of fresh or cooked vegetables and fruits. They are packed with nutrients and add color, texture and flavor to your meal. Remember the MyPlate lesson. Together, fruits and vegetables should make up half of your meal, while grains and protein should each take up one-fourth.
Good for Your Pocketbook
Meat is typically the most expensive element of a meal, so meatless meals are definitely more budget-friendly. Grains and legumes, which are versatile, exceptionally cheap and can be bought in bulk and safely stored to further reduce the price, are an excellent alternative source of protein to replace meat. And, having the basic ingredients of a quick meatless meal in the pantry, can take the stress out of preparing dinner when you don’t have time to hit the grocery store on the way home.
Good for the Environment
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, livestock is estimated to contribute to 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), with other estimates ranging from a 10- to 51-percent contribution. Raising animals for food requires a lot of land, fossil fuel, water, and food, so cutting back on some of the meat you eat is a good way to reduce your environmental impact.
MyPlate Message: Everything you eat and drink over time matters. The right mix can help you be healthier now and in the future. Start with small changes to make healthier choices you can enjoy.
Ingredients: ½ medium onion, diced 1 clove of garlic, minced 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 15-oz. can of diced tomatoes in juice 2 – 3 medium carrots chopped 1 medium zucchini, chopped 5 cups of low sodium vegetable broth Salt and pepper to taste 1 cup of pasta (small elbow or shell macaroni) ½ bunch of kale, torn into bite-size pieces 1 15-oz can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained 2 tablespoons tomato paste ½ teaspoon of dried thyme (or 1 teaspoon fresh) 1 teaspoon of dried basil (or 1 tablespoon fresh)