It’s hard to keep up with all the latest information on healthy eating, isn’t it?
It seems we’ve just learned the basics of the one diet plan when another shows up, promising a world of benefits. Really, who has the time to keep up with the constant stream of new information?
But one thing the experts all seem to agree on is that we should be consuming less red meat.
No, you don’t have to give up that sizzling T-bone on the BBQ, but a little more veggies would be a good decision.
It isn’t necessary to go all-out vegetarian. Instead, try having one meat-free meal a week. Just one. Give it a try for a month, and see if you notice a difference in how you feel. If it’s working out well, continue on with it. After a while, you might want to bump it up to a full day or two plant-based dinners a week. Your call.
If you’re not sure about this idea and need a wee nudge for motivation, give some consideration to the following information recently released in the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s (DGAC) Scientific Report for 2015.
The DGA Committee is comprised of 14 individuals, all experts in the fields of medicine, nutrition and public health. And their mandate is to develop “sound recommendations” to promote better overall health for individuals and families, as well as the population in general.
The problem as outlined in their 2015 report is that about half of all American adults have “one or more preventable, chronic diseases” that are related to poor diet patterns and a lack of physical activity. And, that “more than two thirds of all adults and nearly one third of children and youth are overweight or obese” which contributes to, and aggravates, poor health profiles. These numbers are staggering.
It’s a complex problem, but among their findings is that the average US diet is “low in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and high in sodium, calories, saturated fat, refined grains and added sugars.” In other words, we under-consume the essential nutrients necessary for good health, and over-consume the processed, convenient foods that lead to poor health. It’s sobering, isn’t it?
Their recommendations for improving health patterns?
“The overall body of evidence examined by the 2015 DGAC identifies that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.”1
Now, opting for a vegetarian style meal once a week isn’t a new idea. Meatless Monday2 has been gaining momentum since its inception in 2003, with over 36 countries now adopting the idea. And, with the DGAC’s findings, maybe it’s time for each of us to give the idea some serious consideration.
Still not convinced? Another compelling aspect of the report is that our high consumption of meat based products has a greater detrimental impact on the environment than other dietary models. Why? Because of the emission of greenhouse gases, and the land, water and energy consumed in the production of our current diets.
It certainly adds a little incentive for going green once a week, doesn’t it?
The report urges all of us, individuals, private business and communities alike to work together to create a “culture of health” that makes healthy lifestyle choices easy, accessible and affordable for all.
Does this mean we have to give up meat all together? Not at all. Drastic changes in behavior patterns are hard to maintain and usually fail – the idea is simply too overwhelming. A more sensible approach is to start small and build on your successes, in line with the concept to kaizen.
Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning “change for better”. It’s a methodology that was introduced in Japan after WWII by American experts to help rebuild their industry and economy. It’s based on the philosophy that small, daily steps applied consistently will lead to continuous improvement.
In the context of healthful eating, the choice to go with non-meat options for one meal or one day a week will bring, over time, noticeable results we can quantify and measure. Results such as weight loss, a reduction in chronic disease with greater energy and vitality. These results will then motivate us to make even more choices beneficial to our well-being. Which leads to greater results, inspiring us to make better choices… and the loop continues. We already make eating choices every day, but they’re often at a subconscious level based on habit and convenience. By consciously making ones for better health, we get better results – rather than the habitual poor decisions that lead to disease and obesity.
In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg3 points out that when we make a change to a “keystone” habit, a keystone habit being one of some significance, other supporting habits are replaced without much conscious effort. This is to maintain the concept of consistency we hold about our identity. So, if we decide to improve our overall health with a well-rounded eating plan, i.e. going meat-free once a week, our subconscious will help us by making choices to uphold the vision we have about getting healthier. We’ll find ourselves going for a walk instead of watching TV, or having a glass of water instead of a soda. And that’s a pretty cool perk for deciding to eat your veggies.
We can make a start with baby steps by adapting a variation of the Flexitarian diet – a common sense method for incorporating more plant based meals and reducing meat without having to eliminate it altogether. Interested? Then check out some of our delicious recipes for vegetable and legume dishes – Lori’s Argentine Lentil Stew is a great option, as is Lynne’s Eggplant Curry and as well as her Shepherd’s Pie.
Consuming more plant based meals has numerous health benefits4, some of which are:
- Lower blood pressure.
- Lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
- Stabilized blood sugars.
- Reduction of weight, particularly belly fat.
- Reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
And there’s cost savings involved as well. Per pound, the cost of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes is lower than that of meat. So you’ll be saving a few dollars while you get healthier – you’ve got to love that idea!
Also, by choosing a weekly vegetarian-style meal you’ll be contributing to a healthier planet. This quote is also from the DGAC’s report: “…a diet higher in plant-based foods… and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.”
Some Options for Getting Started
If you’ve decided to give the once a week no-meat meal a try, you may want to include some of these ‘brain superfoods,’ recommended by Dr. Daniel Amen5 into your meal planning. They’re good for the body and brain – might as well get smarter while we’re getting healthier!
Vegetables and fruits
Herbs and spices
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
Chocolate (deserves a category all on its own)
- dark chocolate, the darker the better
- can be made into hot chocolate or cocoa
Individuals and families can start with small shifts in their dietary habits to support their weekly meal goals.
Consume less processed and red meats, processed grains, sugars, saturated fats and sodium.
Prepare healthy snacks and have them on hand so you won’t be tempted to reach for the old standards. Sliced veggies such as carrots, celery, cucumbers, broccoli and cauliflower are satisfying, as are berries and wedges of apples and pears.
If you’ve made the decision to add more greens to your diet, here’s a tasty recipe for vegetarian chili to get you started on the path to greater health and energy. And these Bliss Balls make a nice treat for your commitment!
1Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Retrieved from http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/04-integration.asp
2Meatlessmonday.com. Retrieved from http://www.meatlessmonday.com/the-global-movement/
3Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business, 2012, Random House.
4Michael Greger MD, nutritionfacts.org. Retrieved from http://nutritionfacts.org/topics/plant-based-diets/
5Dr. Daniel Amen MB, amenclinics.com. Retrieved from http://www.amenclinics.com/blog/19-best-brain-superfoods/
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.