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Meatless Meals to Improve Health

Reducing meat intake, especially red meat intake, is recommended to reduce risk of chronic disease. Meatless Monday started during WWI and continued through WWII as a way for people to support the war effort by consuming less meat. In 2003 Meatless Monday was reinstated by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future as a public health awareness effort to reduce risk of chronic disease by decreasing meat intake.1

Eating less meat means replacing animal proteins (red meat, chicken, lamb, pork, fish) with plant sources of protein. We’re familiar with nutrition guidelines that encourage us to consume more plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruit, and whole grains, but what about plant sources of protein? Many of us aren’t as familiar with protein foods from plants that include:

  • Dried beans and peas, or legumes, that include black beans, lentils, chickpeas, pinto beans, adzuki beans, fava beans, Anasazi beans, and kidney beans.
  • Foods from soy including tofu, tempeh, seitan, and edamame.
  • Nuts and seeds, including nut and seed butters like peanut butter or sunflower seed butter.2

Benefits of eating meatless meals

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines include plant sources of protein in each of the three recommended healthy meal patterns, noting that these foods are lower in fat and saturated fat than animal protein sources and contribute significant amounts of nutrients to our diet. Fat in animal products is more saturated, while the fat in plant foods such as nuts and seeds is unsaturated. Replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat is a key way to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. Unlike animal foods that contain no fiber, plant sources of protein are good sources of fiber that help promote a healthy digestive system. In fact, legumes contain more fiber than any other type of food.2

Both the American Heart Association and the American Institute for Cancer Research note that eating less red meat and more plant sources of protein decreases risk of cardiovascular disease and many types of cancer.3, 4 AICR specifically recommends eating no more than 18 oz cooked weight per week of red meat (beef, pork and lamb) and avoiding processed meat (ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs and sausages) completely to reduce cancer risk.4

People who eat less meat tend to consume fewer calories which helps support a healthy weight. Filling your plate with plant-based sources of protein, vegetables, fruit and whole grains provides a wide range of nutrients essential to good health. Plus plant sources of protein are less expensive than animal proteins, making eating a healthy diet more affordable.2

Tips to enjoy meatless meals

You may already eat a meatless meal and not even realize it:  a peanut butter sandwich for lunch or red beans and rice for dinner are both examples of meals that contain protein from plants and not animals. Start with one or two meatless lunches or dinners per week, and enjoy the health benefits of reducing your meat intake. Use these tips to add more meatless meals to your week:

  • Add cubes of tofu to vegetable soup or a vegetable stir-fry.
  • Replace the beef in casseroles with soy crumbles, a meatless product made from soy that resembles the texture of ground beef.
  • Make meatless chili using kidney beans, pinto beans or red beans instead of beef.
  • Choose peanut butter instead of lunchmeat for a sandwich.
  • Grill a veggie burger made from legumes and/or soy instead of a ground beef burger.
  • Add hummus and chickpeas instead of sliced ham to a tossed salad for a meat-free chef’s salad. Or make a taco salad with pinto beans instead of ground meat.
  • Marinate tempeh, a fermented and preformed soy patty with the texture of chicken, in your favorite salad dressing or barbecue sauce and use in a sandwich instead of lunch meat or BBQ pork.
  • Enjoy a meat-free pasta sauce made with lentils and other vegetables.


History. Meatless Monday. http://www.meatlessmonday.com/about-us/history/ accessed 2-22-16

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. http://web.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/ Accessed 2-15-16

Meals without Meat. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Meals-Without-Meat_UCM_430994_Article.jsp#.Vr5gnPkrL9g Accessed 2-15-16

Recommendations for Cancer Prevention. American Institute for Cancer Research. http://www.aicr.org/reduce-your-cancer-risk/recommendations-for-cancer-prevention/recommendations_05_red_meat.html Accessed 2-15-16

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