How going meat-free even one day a week can improve your health
With a new year inevitably comes at least some thought of how we can perhaps improve our health and with that at least some consideration of how what we eat may need some tinkering.
Yes, we said tinkering because sometimes taking a small step is the way to go. Here are five reasons to consider eliminating meat from your diet—even if you only do it one day a week.
It’s Good for You
While many aspects of vegetarianism may be open to debate, and rightfully so, the potential health benefits of eliminating meat is pretty straightforward. Study after verified study has proven that eating a meat-free diet is much better for your health in a number of ways.
- Your heart will thank you. Vegetarians have a 24% lower risk of dying of heart disease than non-vegetarians. Much of the difference is attributed to their diet having less saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories, as well as a higher intake of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients. In addition, studies show that people who eat a lot of red meat are at an elevated risk of death from heart disease, stroke, or diabetes. Eating processed meats, such as hot dogs, is even worse. And for those of you thinking “It’s too late for me, I’ve been eating steak every night for years,” some studies have shown that adopting a vegetarian diet at any point can help reverse coronary heart disease.
- Other organs will appreciate the change as well. Studies show that diets containing a lot of red meat and processed meats can lead to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, while diets high in vegetables can decrease the risks of several types of cancers.
- A meat-free diet typically contains fewer saturated fats and calories, which means that vegetarians often have lower BMIs (Body Mass Indexes). So, being a vegetarian can help you maintain a lower weight, which tends to be better for all of us.
It’s Better for the Environment
If going meat-free for your own health isn’t enough, maybe taking the planet into consideration will help. Studies show that livestock production methods are one of the main drivers of climate change and biodiversity loss. Beef and soy production, for instance, is largely responsible for the deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Not only are we losing valuable acres of trees and countless biomes for the diverse animal populations, but those forests are often leveled using fire, which releases vast amounts of CO₂ into the atmosphere while removing a crucial CO₂ sink (one of the methods the planet uses to absorb this harmful gas.)
Additionally, roughly half the planet’s habitable land is used for agriculture, and about 77% of that is used by grazing livestock. That doesn’t sound so bad until you remember that livestock produce a lot of gas, particularly methane, through farting. Their manure also continues to release methane over time, and if you’re not using cow manure as fertilizer then your alternatives are nitrogen-based fertilizers that release nitrous oxide into the air (which is also harmful.)
Producing meat also uses a disproportionate amount of water. It requires two times more water to produce beef than pork and four times more water than it takes to produce alternative protein sources such as lentils. Finally, livestock production contributes to water pollution around the world because manure often contaminates watercourses.
The Meat-Free Alternatives Have Improved
Gone are the days when you would have to choke down a dry, tasteless veggie burger at the family cookout. Today’s “meat replacement” products are barely discernible from the real thing, so if you’re looking to go meat-free now might be the time to give it a try.
You’ve probably heard about Burger King’s Impossible Burger, made by Impossible Foods, a company that makes a wide range of scientifically-engineered plant-based foods that taste like the real thing. They make nuggets, sausage, meatballs, and other pork products, and people swear they can barely tell the difference.
On the other hand, going vegetarian doesn’t have to mean eating “impossible” foods. The drive to eat cleaner and healthier has led to a huge market for vegetarian options, so you’re no longer stuck just ordering a salad at restaurants. It’s so much easier now to find a hearty, filling, and delicious meal that is sans meat. (If you’re interested, we’ve had really good luck with Tasty’s 4,599 vegetarian offerings.)
Go Meat-Free For the Adorable Farm Animals
Have you ever looked at a cow? Like, really looked. Those eyes are huge, but gentle, with long, thick eyelashes. They’re adorable. But they’re also delicious. It’s a conundrum.
For most of us, the “they’re so cute” argument hasn’t been enough of a deterrent to eating a delicious ribeye, but if we’ve learned one thing in our research for this article: the more you learn about where your meat comes from, the less you’ll want to eat it. The demand for more (and cheaper) meat has led to agribusiness practices that are as inhumane as they are disgusting. We won’t go into the awful practices involved, because that’s a much longer research project, but if you want to learn, we can point you to some documentaries that do an excellent job. (Food, Inc. and Forks Over Knives are two of our favorites, but here are a number of others that fit the bill, so to speak.) The horrors that are depicted in raising livestock — particularly poultry — will stay with you, so fair warning.
Look Good, Feel Better, And Save Money?
Eating less meat can also have an impact on your wallet. Meat is expensive. Pandemic supply-chain issues have led to costs skyrocketing (a pound of bacon is now over $9!), so now could be the perfect time to cut back. Even if you just reduce how often you eat meat without completely abstaining you will be feeling the effects on your health, your waistline, and your bank account.
The bottom line: While the benefits of leading a vegetarian lifestyle are maximized by adhering to it full-time, plenty of studies in the past few years extoll the virtues of avoiding meat for just one day a week. In 2003 the Johns Hopkins Center for a Liveable Future started its Meatless Mondays campaign to try and encourage Americans to adopt this practice in the hopes that even that small change could enact a huge difference in our battles against climate change, obesity, and heart disease. Just one day a week of focusing on consuming vegetables and healthy grains can have a monumental impact — on your health and the health of the planet.
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