Lots of us grew up eating meat at every meal. This is so much a part of our culture that I’ve heard many people say they have trouble cooking meatless meals. Today, however, we know that reducing the amount of meat we consume is good for our health, our finances, and our planet.
Health benefits -- Animal proteins tend to have more saturated fat and are lower in fiber, something most Americans need more of. When you substitute animal proteins with vegetarian proteins, more whole grains, and veggies, you end up with a diet that is higher in fiber and offers you a wider array of essential vitamins and minerals. Going meatless even just once a week may reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Financial benefits -- Meatless meals are built around beans, lentils, vegetables, and whole grains. These plant-based proteins tend to be less expensive than meat. Fresh vegetables are very budget-friendly, especially when you buy them in season. They also taste and look better when they’re at their peak. It can be challenging to serve healthy meals on a budget but going meatless even just once a week can help conserve money for more fruits and vegetables.
Environmental benefits -- In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that livestock contributes to more than one-third of methane emissions, one type of Greenhouse Gas. In addition, raising animals for food requires a lot of land, fossil fuel, water, and food, so cutting back on some of the meat you eat is a good way to reduce your environmental impact.
If you don't like the idea of a whole day without meat, start with a couple of meatless dinners each week. Plan meals that feature your favorite entrees that are often meatless to begin with, such as lasagna, soup, or pasta salad. Or try substituting the following protein-rich foods for meat in your favorite recipes:
Beans and legumes — great in casseroles and salads
Vegetarian refried beans — a good substitute for meat in burritos and tacos
Tofu — a perfect addition to stir-fry dishes
It might seem like eating meatless once a week will not make a difference, but it does! Even if you don’t see immediate results with the environment, you will definitely notice the benefits in your health and grocery bill.
Instead of thinking of it as subtracting from your diet, think of it as adding something to it by trying meatless recipes you might never have tried otherwise. Visit www.bellisaris.com to find some of my favorite meatless recipes like this one featuring our Saigon Street Sauce.