Meatless Mondays

Alert the media!  Oh wait, that’s me.  (Forgive me; I had to.)

In all seriousness, my husband DID make a shocking announcement toward the end of February.  He said he’d like to go meatless. 

After picking myself up off the floor, I asked him what he meant.  He said he’d been eating poorly lately (I’m looking at you, pizza and wings.) and that he wanted to avoid red meat for a month.  More specifically, he wanted to increase his intake of fish, and avoid all red meat and pork. 

It shouldn’t be news to anyone at this point that decreasing your intake of red and processed meats is beneficial to your health.  Despite buying high-quality meat for our home, red and processed meats are still high in saturated fat, which is linked to heart disease, among other comorbidities.  Processed meats are also high in sodium, which can lead to high blood pressure.  Additionally, red and processed meat intake has been linked to the development of colorectal cancer.

A 2012 Harvard study found that those who ate the most red and processed meat died younger, with most of those deaths occurring from cardiovascular disease or cancer.  The study found that each additional serving of red or processed meat per day incurred a 13% (red meat) or 20% (processed meat) “increased risk of death” to the individual.  That same study found that substituting alternate protein sources actually reduced the risk of death.  Specifically, choosing fish led to a 7% decrease, legumes a 10%, poultry a 14% decrease and nuts a 19% decreased risk of death.

Now, I know my husband, and I knew he was anticipating simply eating more pasta dishes, sans meatballs.  I quickly explained to him that replacing the meat with extra white bread (i.e. nutritionally poor carbohydrate options) would not help him meet his health goals.  Non-meat sources of protein include beans, quinoa, soy products (like tofu) and eggs. 

The problem is, my husband doesn’t like beans.  Or hummus.  Or tofu, or anything tofu-like.  So, I knew meeting his protein needs with just fish and eggs a few times a week was going to be hard.  (He also doesn’t like cheese, which isn’t exactly a great source of protein, but it does have some, and would come in handy in his diet right about now.)

Enter poultry on a limited basis.  After discussing my husband’s health goals and the feasibility of eschewing meat—both in our home and while eating out—we decided a little chicken or turkey here and there would be fine.  As stated above, substituting poultry for a red-meat option decreased the risk of death by 14%! 

My husband even wrote up a mid-month ‘progress report’ for me (unprompted!) and here are his takeaways halfway through:

-it’s been easier than he thought to avoid red meat and pork, but harder to go meatless altogether

-has had lots of success with increasing his fish and seafood intake

-has had more poultry than he anticipated

-thinks he was eating meat at approximately 95% of his meals; now more like 70%

-has been eating more eggs and yogurt at breakfast

He even listed a couple victories while eating out, including choosing a turkey sandwich at a BBQ place (instead of brisket) and even ordered the shrimp scampi instead of a fancy steak at a recent work dinner.

Accommodating my husband’s goals has been a bit of a challenge; on the one hand, I’ve enjoyed making some new things, but also realized how many of our go-to meals featured meat prominently.  My homemade spaghetti sauce, tacos and even ‘power bowls’ (typically made with ground beef) are out for the month.  But, I did make a beautiful soba noodle dish with a rainbow of vegetables, as well as an incredible shrimp dish with cherry tomatoes that came together in about 10 minutes; both of those will be added to the rotation. 

Bottom line:  It’s a great idea to decrease your intake of red and processed meats, if you haven’t already.  A ‘flexitarian’ diet is one that has less animal products, but hasn’t eliminated them completely, and health benefits are similar to those who follow vegetarian diets.  In fact, vegetarian diets tend to be higher in antioxidants and fiber, and plant foods have a protective effect on certain cancers.  If my husband can do it, you can, too!

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