You make a head spinning 200-plus decisions about food every day, according to research from the journal Environment and Behaviour. These involve everything from ingredient choices to whether or not to satisfy that craving for double chocolate fudge cake. With each decision comes a fresh opportunity to do right by your body, and by making the choice to lower your meat intake you can boost your health whilst doing your bit for the planet too.
With meat production being one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, taking just one day a week off from eating meat can go a long way to preventing climate change. An Oxford University department of public health study has also linked eating meat no more than three times a week with reduced mortality and lower risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke.
Whilst many celebrities such as Ellie Goulding and Demi Moore sing the praises of a meat free lifestyle, saying goodbye to meat completely may not be to everyone’s tastes. Plus meat isn’t all bad. “Meat is a good source of protein as well as iron and zinc which are vital for growth, repair, energy and maintaining a healthy immune system, says registered nutritionist Dr Carina Norris. “But eating processed meat, or too much red meat, has been linked with an increased risk of some cancers so factoring some meat free days into your schedule can minimise this risk as well as help reduce your risk of obesity and heart disease.”
Another researched benefit of going meat-free is weight loss. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition greater levels of meat consumption was associated with greater weight gain in men and women, with red meat, poultry and processed meat being the worst culprits.
Of course you don’t have to wait until a Monday to go meat free, but research has shown that people are open to behaviour change modifications on Mondays and view the start of the week as a good time to kick off a new healthy habit.
“If you choose carefully, you’ll have no problem hitting all your nutrient targets,” explains Carina. Base your meat-free meals around healthy foods like eggs, low-fat dairy, pulses, nuts and seeds, and plenty of vegetables and fruit. Plus, by incorporating plenty of plant-based foods, you’ll be boosting your intake of fibre along with vital phytochemicals such as flavonoids and other useful antioxidants.”
As well as the health and environment benefits, making Mondays meat free could also have other benefits. A 2013 spending survey by the Office for National Statistics found that the average UK family spends £15.60 a week on meat and fish, £4.30 on fresh vegetables and £3.30 on fresh fruit. With meat being the biggest strain on the purse strings, going meat-free more often would be wise for your wallet too.
If you’re stuck for ideas, the Meat Free Mondays website, launched by Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney, is packed with creative recipe ideas such as this Spiced Wholewheat Couscous with Sweet Potato and Pistachios by Stella McCartney, taken from the award-winning Meat Free Monday Cookbook.