The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many people to reconsider their eating habits. A recent survey conducted by self.inc found that nearly a quarter of the participants increased their eating of plant-based foods since COVID-19 began. One reason for this change is the desire for improved health. Experts agree that even eating just one meatless meal a week can provide numerous health benefits to people – as well as to the environment.
Increased Wellness: Eating a plant-based diet can reduce ailments such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes, according to studies presented by the National Institute of Health and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Harvard Medical School instructor Dr. Peter Grinspoon noted that replacing beef for plant-based protein, even one day a week, can cut your risks of getting diabetes, a stroke or heart attack. A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that eating three percent less animal protein and exchanging it with plant protein can result in up to a nearly 20 percent reduction of death from any cause.
Nutrients: Plant-based diets can provide much of the needed protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals required for a healthy diet. These foods, Dr. Uma Naidoo wrote in a Harvard Health blog, offer valuable amounts of folate, soluble and insoluble fiber, iron, phosphorus, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. Furthermore, eating legumes, vegetables, beans, and fruits, as health and fitness specialist Dr. Wendy Bazilian told Readers Digest, can also up your energy, enhance your skin and improve your digestive and immune systems.
Better Mood: Besides reducing risks of various diseases, fruits and vegetables can improve your mental health, states Dr. Naidoo. Foods loaded with B vitamins (think avocado and almonds) tend to activate the so-called “feel good” neurotransmitters (such as serotonin and dopamine) in our brains. Magnesium-rich foods (legumes, nuts, seeds, leafy greens and whole grains, for example) are viewed as having a calming effect on people. Similarly, antioxidants (which include numerous types of beans, fruits, nuts and vegetables) are believed to assist in easing anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, a Psychiatry Research report suggested that probiotic foods (i.e. pickles, sauerkraut and kefir) could reduce symptoms of social anxiety.
Losing Weight: Something else that can be gained by going meatless one day a week is shedding a few pounds and improving your metabolism. Compared to meat, fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains tend to be lower in fat and calories. In a Permanente Journal article, physicians recommended a plant-based diet for patients with major weight issues. Health gains can come from small dietary changes, even if you go meatless one day a week, “there can be a significant win over time to one’s life,” Dr. Wendy Bazilian shared. Although, it is good to remember that diet is just one factor (along with exercise and other healthy lifestyle choices) to living longer as well as losing weight.
Save Money: Meatless Mondays – or whatever day of the week you chose – can help your bottom line as well as your waistline. Beef, chicken and other meats typically cost more per pound than vegetables and fruits. A plant-based diet, as accredited financial counselor Ana Gonzalez Ribeiro told Readers Digest, can possibly shrink your annual grocery bill by half. More savings can be achieved by filling your freezer with frozen fruits and vegetables and stocking your pantry with long-lasting items like pasta and canned soup (and seek out the low-sugar, low-sodium options for increased health benefits). Additionally, healthier living tends to mean fewer illnesses and fewer doctor visits, which also lower your expenses.
Environmental Improvements: The current state of the environment – with issues like climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and diminishing natural resources – is well covered in the news. What may be surprising is just how much of a positive effect one day of meatless meals can make on the environment. Kathy Freston, the award-winning author and executive director of the Good Food Institute, asserts the U.S. could save 100 billion gallons of water, 1.5 billion pounds of crops (used as livestock feed), 70 million gallons of gas, and 3 million acres of land if everyone went vegetarian for a single day. Moreover, one meatless day could prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide. The World Resources Institute ranks beef, poultry and pork among the top four destructive foods in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, freshwater consumption and land use.
Tips for surviving a day without meat: It might sound daunting, but try drinking plenty of water, particularly if you are consuming a lot of fiber, as this will aid your gastrointestinal tract. Be aware that not all plant-based foods are nutritious for you, so be mindful of added sugar, preservatives and saturated fats. Also, keep in mind that nuts, seeds, legumes and grains are alternative sources of protein. Lastly, remember “meatless” can be defined in many ways: vegan (no animal foods); vegetarian (eggs and dairy foods are okay) and pescatarian (which adds fish to the diet), and, if you are contemplating doing more than a Meatless Monday, the flexitarian diet includes occasionally eating meat, poultry, seafood and fish.
To Learn More Check Out:
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2212267216311923
Journal of American Medical Association – https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eat-more-plants-fewer-animals-2018112915198
Permanente Journal – http://www.thepermanentejournal.org/issues/2013/spring/5117-nutrition.html
Johns Hopkins – https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2009.45
Journal of the American College of Nutrition
World Resources Institute – https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cleaner-living-plant-friendly-is-planet-friendly-2019032516269