The Meatless Monday program is associated with the John Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. This program advocates that you can make a positive impact on your health by decreasing your meat intake once a week.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 2010 even included a section on vegetarian diets, indicating that vegetarian style eating patterns are associated with lower levels of obesity, decreased cardiovascular disease risk, lower blood pressure and reduced total mortality. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines focus on a diet rich in legumes, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts/seeds, with moderate amounts of lean meats, eggs, and dairy.
Notice that this focus is similar to recommendations of the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) to lower blood pressure. Those who follow a vegetarian diet tend to have healthier weights and lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol.
Are Plant Based Meals Nutritionally Adequate?
Plant based meals can be nutritionally adequate, but when you go meatless you need to do a little extra planning to ensure all your nutritional needs are met. Below are some nutrients and micronutrients you should pay extra attention to, particularly if you are working eliminate meat altogether.
Legumes, dairy, nuts, and seeds are rich sources of protein. Some whole grains and vegetables are also good protein sources.
Almonds 1 oz = 6 g protein
Black beans ½ c = 5 g protein
Peanut butter 2 T = 8 g protein
Pinto beans ½ c = 8 g protein
Spinach, cooked ½ c = 3 g protein
Wild rice, cooked ½ c = 4 g protein
If you limit your consumption of dairy foods, you need to increase your daily intake of foods rich in calcium. This may include dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, and almonds.
Vitamin D needs are often met through fortified milk, so if you reduce your milk intake you’ll need to be aware other options for vitamin D. Orange juice is another beverage fortified with vitamin D as well as daily sunlight exposure.
Vitamin B12 is found only in animal products, such as fish, eggs, dairy, and meat. If you are working to drastically eliminate these foods from your diet, consider a B12 supplement. Vitamin B12 deficiency can result in megaloblastic anemia.
There are plant sources that provide iron, but the iron found in animal products tends to be more readily absorbed. To promote increased iron absorption from plant sources, combine the iron source with a food rich in vitamin C.
Do I Need to Worry If I Still Eat Meat?
The concern about meeting nutritional needs is not as great if you just work to replace some of your meat based meals with meatless options. I shared the above for those who are looking to eliminate meat products all together.
Making slight changes to your diet to include meals higher in plant based protein to replace animal sources is a beneficial step to promote overall heart health. You don’t need to go completely vegetarian to see the benefits.