What's for dinner this week?
For many of us, beef, chicken or pork are likely on the menu.
"We tend to build most of our meals around animal proteins, but evidence shows that incorporating more plant-based proteins into your diet can provide significant health benefits," says Angela Snyder, a wellness dietitian at Houston Methodist.
We know, we know: The idea of eating less meat can send us carnivores into panic mode.
But plant-based eating doesn't have to be all or nothing — and that's where Meatless Monday comes in.
What is Meatless Monday?
Meatless Monday is a healthy eating movement that encourages people to skip meat one day per week (it can be adopted for any day), replacing the animal proteins you'd usually eat with plant-based proteins instead.
The rationale for incorporating more plants into our diets is two-fold:
"For starters, we know that plant proteins are more environmentally sustainable than their animal meat counterparts," says Snyder. "Second, eating a plant-based diet comes with many health benefits."
And this doesn't mean you have to go completely vegan or completely vegetarian, by the way. Going meatless even just once a week provides benefit.
"Meatless Mondays is simply about shifting your mindset and actively choosing to incorporate more plant-based proteins into your diet so you can reap the benefits they provide," says Snyder. "It's not something many of us are used to doing, so starting by going meatless just once per week is really approachable for most people."
Plus, Meatless Monday might also be a first step toward eating plant-based food more often.
What are the benefits of a plant-based diet?
Plant-based eating is pretty loosely defined, but Snyder likens it to a flexitarian diet.
"You're open to going meatless either on Monday or even a few times a week, but you're not trying to cut meat or animal proteins out altogether," says Snyder.
It's an eating pattern similar to the Mediterranean diet, which consists of very little red meat and, instead, emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant proteins.
"There's a wealth of evidence showing that the Mediterranean eating pattern provides significant benefits and reduces the risk of several health conditions," adds Snyder. "There's really nothing negative to say about it. All of the research on this type of eating pattern is very positive. And Meatless Monday is a great way to start."
Here are five reasons to give plant-based eating a try:
It can help protect your heart. Several studies show that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
It can reduce the risk of diabetes. The Mediterranean diet is proven to improve blood sugar and reduce the complications associated with diabetes that lead to heart disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
It may promote better brain health. New research suggests that the Mediterranean diet may potentially decrease a person's risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease.
It may reduce inflammation. Eating plant proteins means more fiber and antioxidants in your diet, both which can help reduce inflammation — an issue that itself is linked to many health conditions, ranging from heart disease and arthritis to dementia and cancer.
Eating less meat isn't as hard as it sounds. Planning meatless meals might sound intimidating and actually enjoying them may seem impossible, but you might be surprised to learn that incorporating plant proteins into your meals is easy and delicious.
But can you still get enough protein without meat?
It may be hard to see beyond the steaks, burgers, tenders and links you're used to eating, but Meatless Monday is a great way to introduce yourself to the many meatless ways you can hit your daily protein intake.
Plant-based protein sources include:
- Beans (black beans, pinto beans, cannellini beans, etc.)
- Red and green lentils
- Peanuts and almonds
But beware! Watch out for the packaged, "I can't believe it's not meat" options you find at the grocery store and restaurants.
"Plant-based meats are convenient, but they are highly processed and often contain additives, high amounts of salt and added saturated fat," warns Snyder. "Instead, I recommend choosing one of the whole plant protein sources listed above."
(Related: Are Plant-Based Burgers Actually Healthy?)
Here are Meatless Monday ideas for every meal to help get you started
Whether it's breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner — and even if you decide to try it on a day other than Monday — here are meatless meal ideas to help get you started.
Meatless breakfast options:
- Oatmeal with nuts and berries
- Greek yogurt topped with fruit
- Vegetable frittata
- Egg white omelet packed with vegetables
- Whole grain pancakes or whole grain waffles with a side of fruit
Meatless lunch options:
- Salad packed with veggies and topped with beans or chickpeas
- Vegetable and bean soup
- Black bean and sweet potato tacos
- A handful of nuts and fruit
- Crispy chickpeas
- Hummus and veggies
- Whole grain crackers with low fat cheese
- An apple with peanut butter
Meatless dinner options:
- Lentil chili
- Homemade black bean and quinoa burgers
- Vegetable lasagna
- Chickpea curry
- Three-bean enchiladas
"The key to Meatless Monday isn't to just eat anything that doesn't contain meat, like cheese pizza and ice cream," adds Snyder. "It's to eat a well-balanced meal that's full of the veggies, plant proteins and whole grains that help you reap the health benefits of getting plenty of fiber and antioxidants."