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Fitness Nutrition Forums

Meatless Mondays and Beyond

Research is mounting showing numerous health and environmental benefits of consuming less meat. A mostly plant-based diet, which focuses on a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, is chock-full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals, including antioxidants. Additionally, meatless meals are often lower in total fat, saturated fat, and calories. Research has shown that vegetarians (people who do not consume any meat) have lower rates of cancer and heart disease than meat-eaters. In fact, a large, 10-year study from the National Cancer Institute found that people who consumed the most red meat each day had a 30 percent higher chance of dying from any cause compared to people who consumed the least red meat.

Studies have also found that vegetarians tend to weigh less. Another benefit of foregoing feasting on our furry friends is saving money because we know meat can be expensive and continues to rise in price. This allows you to keep your waist slim and your wallet fat.

However, you don’t have to give up meat cold-turkey in order to reap some of the benefits. Just cutting back on your meat consumption is beneficial. Let’s take a look at some ways you can eat less meat while still enjoying flavorful, healthy meals and snacks.

Toss the Processed Meat

Processed meat, which is any type of meat that is preserved through curing, salting, smoking, or adding chemical preservatives, includes items such as hot dogs, sausages, bacon, ham, salami, luncheon meats, pepperoni, and any red meat in frozen meals and snacks. Eating processed meat has been associated with a higher chance of premature death, so get rid of this first.

Go Meatless Once a Week

You’ve probably heard of “Meatless Mondays,” but consider going meatless any day of the week that is most convenient for you. After a few weeks of one meat-free day per week, bump it up to going meat-free twice a week. If an entire day without meat sounds like torture to you, simply plan a few meatless meals each week.

Sub in Beans or Lentils

Cooked beans and lentils have a meat-like taste and texture and can be used to replace half of the ground meat called for in a recipe. For example, if you’re making tacos, use half of the amount of ground beef or ground turkey the recipe calls for and add a can of pinto beans. Grilling burgers? Mash up some beans or lentils and add them into the meat mixture. Beans and lentils also work well in pasta, casseroles, and soups.

Focus on Fish

Health experts suggest consuming fish, particularly fatty fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, herring, rainbow trout, and sardines, at least twice a week. The idea isn’t to simply add fish to your diet, but to replace meat -- especially red meat -- with fish. For economically-friendly fish options, look for canned salmon and tuna, or frozen fish, which are usually cheaper than fresh fish.

Explore Vegetarian Menu Options

More and more restaurants nowadays are expanding their vegetarian menu options as a larger number of people are embracing a vegetarian or “flexitarian” lifestyle. Next time you go out to lunch or dinner, select one of the tasty vegetarian options. Who knows, you may discover a new meatless dish that you love!

Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children.

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