Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Meatless Monday or Any Day You Like

There’s a sizable food trend simmering on the sidelines to declare diets free from meat one day a week called “Meatless Monday.”

It started a few years ago as a public health awareness program associated with the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, and today it’s gaining followers who believe skipping meat one day a week is good for their health by cutting their intake of saturated fat and good for the health of the planet by saving resources such as fresh water and fossil fuel.

Why Mondays? According to the Web site,, Monday marks a move back to the structure of school and work and a time to plan ahead and set good intentions for the week.

“I think meatless Monday is a good alliteration,” said dietitian Chris Rosenbloom, who is a professor of nutrition at Georgia State University. “It could be Tofu Tuesday or Wild Greens Wednesday, but Meatless Monday has a nice poetic ring to it. And depending on your choice, the benefits can be an increase in vegetable consumption, more dietary fiber, more vitamins and minerals and healthy plant chemicals, and less cholesterol, saturated and total fat.”

It’s interesting to note that Meatless Monday has a place in history, as well. During World War I, the U.S. Food Administration urged American to reduce consumption of key staples to aid the war effort. “Food will win the war,” the government proclaimed, and “Meatless Monday” and “Wheatless Wednesday” were introduced to the nation.

Another modern moniker for folks following today’s increasingly popular middle ground between vegetarian and meat eater is the term “flexitarian.” Sometimes they eat vegetarian-style meals, and sometimes they eat meat. It could mean whole-wheat penne pasta for lunch and short ribs for dinner. But often it’s a smaller serving of meat with lots of side vegetables.

According to the Vegetarian Research Group, about 3 percent of American adults are true vegetarians who say they never eat meat, fish or poultry. But at least 10 percent of adults consider themselves vegetarians, even though they eat fish or chicken occasionally. The flexitarian model, where people say they “seek out vegetarian meals,” fits even more, with estimates as high as 40 percent of the U.S. population.

Rosenbloom cautions that a move to skip meat doesn’t automatically guarantee great health because there are dietary downfalls in the vegetarian world, too. “Watch out for high-fat and high-sodium cheese, sour cream or whole milk dairy added to vegetarian entrees. Ask the wait staff to use less cheese on a dish. And avoid high-calorie fried items. Beer-battered and deep-fried asparagus spears are not the healthiest choice, even though it is a vegetarian option.”

Some might wonder whether a Meatless Monday might cut into needed protein requirements, but Rosenbloom reassures that most Americans consume more than enough protein anyway and the vegetable kingdom is a rich source. But, again, you have to choose wisely.

“Whole grains and vegetables contain some protein and beans, like black beans, kidney beans, etc., are very high in protein because their roots fix nitrogen unlike other vegetables," Rosenbloom said. "We used to think that you had to combine certain plants [beans and rice] together at the same meal in order for your body to use the protein, but we know now you don't have to eat them at the same meal to get the benefit. However, come combinations, like beans and rice, taste great together.”

Meatless menu options (from USDA My

Choose dry beans or peas as a main dish or part of a meal often. Some choices are:

Chili with kidney or pinto beans

Stir-fried tofu

Split pea, lentil, minestrone or white bean soups

Baked beans

Black bean enchiladas

Garbanzo or kidney beans on a chef’s salad

Rice and beans

Veggie burgers or garden burgers

Hummus (chickpeas) spread on pita bread

Choose nuts as a snack, on salads or in main dishes. Use nuts to replace meat or poultry, not in addition to these items:

Use pine nuts in pesto sauce for pasta

Add slivered almonds to steamed vegetables

Add toasted peanuts or cashews to a vegetable stir fry instead of meat

Sprinkle a few nuts on top of low-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt

Add walnuts or pecans to a green salad instead of cheese or meat

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