Make Mondays meatless -- help yourself and the planet!

by Susan Stuck

Meatless MondaysThere's a global movement hoping to promote the health of people and the planet with one simple message: Don't eat meat on Mondays.

But what if you don't want to give meat up? It's only once-a-week.

Find out how you can make this a fun adventure and not leave it as a mundane chore! Going meatless could reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.

It can also help reduce your carbon footprint and save precious resources like fresh water and fossil fuel.

Making Mondays meatless!

Why Meatless?

Going meatless one day a week is a small, easy step that can help you reduce your risk of serious health conditions.

How did it start?

Retired ad man Sid Lerner founded the Meatless Monday campaign in 2003. Lerner had received a wake-up call from his doctor. His cholesterol and blood pressure readings were sky-high. Lerner realized that if he cut out meat one day a week he could cut his saturated fat intake by 15 percent. He partnered with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health to make his personal choice a national initiative. The idea quickly took off. Today a wide network of restaurants, worksites and hospitals have pledged to offer Meatless Monday dishes.

Why Monday?

Most people organize their lives around a workweek that begins on Monday. It's the day to refocus, check progress and set goals. Meatless Monday is an easy way to kick off a week of healthy lifestyle choices.

Known health benefits

Americans consume, on average, half a pound of meat each day. That's a lot of protein, more than most bodies need. It's also a lot of unhealthy saturated fat. Study after study has shown that eating less meat has a health protective effect.

Consider these facts:
• A 2010 Harvard study found that replacing foods high in saturated fats (meats and full-fat dairy) with foods rich in polyunsaturated fat (vegetable oils, nuts and seeds) could reduce heart disease risk by 19 percent.
• Researchers say eating more red meat and processed meats increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.
• Hundreds of studies suggest that diets rich in plant foods may reduce cancer risk.
• A National Cancer Institute study found that those who ate 4 ounces (112 grams) of red meat or more daily had higher risks of death than those who consumed less. Sausage, lunch meats and other processed meats also increased the risk.
It's Planet Friendly, Too!
Meatless Monday backers point out that eating less meat can help you reduce your carbon footprint and save precious resources like fresh water and fossil fuel.
• The UN estimates that the meat industry generates one-fifth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, far more than the emissions produced by transportation.
• It's estimated that it takes 840 gallons of water to produce the 7 pounds of grain that it takes to produce 1 pound of beef.
• It takes 15 times more fossil fuels to produce beef protein than plant-based protein.

For more information about Meatless Mondays, explore Ready to go meatless this week? Check out our top ten vegetarian dinners!

Susan Stuck is the food editor for Alere and has written about healthy, low-fat cooking for more than 20 years.

© Alere. All rights reserved. Last reviewed March 2012. Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.