Does saving money, helping the environment, learning about new foods, and losing weight—all while improving your health—sound appealing to you? Welcome to Meatless March!
I certainly pride myself on my omnivore status. I never have to explain detailed food aversions or requests before dinner parties, I can eat at any restaurant, I get loads of vitamin B12 (the only vitamin that cannot be supplied with a whole food, plant-based diet), and I get to enjoy a rich, meaty, bacon cheeseburger whenever I want. Vegetarianism has never really appealed to me—and yet, Meatless March does.
While you might never be able to imagine yourself completely abstaining from medium-rare filet mignons for the rest of your life, that doesn’t mean this challenge isn’t for you. Yes, research has shown that going vegan is the most effective weight loss diet, but Meatless March is about more than just minimizing belly fat. It’s about learning how to incorporate healthier foods into your diet, challenging yourself to get creative with different recipes, and—arguably most importantly—helping to do your part in cleaning up our planet. Some reports estimate that it can take 14.6 gallons of water, 13.5 pounds of feed, and 64.5 square feet of land to produce a single quarter-pound burger. Besides those wasted resources, that same burger will cost the Earth an eighth of a pound of methane and a total of four pounds total of greenhouse gases—two factors in what are contributing to human-driven climate change. Yes, your burger might have only cost you a dollar, but it costs the planet a lot more.
Giving up eating animals can be tricky, not just because we crave the occasional order of chicken nuggets, but because animals products have traditionally been our primary source of protein and important nutrients like vitamin D and B12. With this Meatless March Plan, you’ll learn how to make this vegetarian (and possibly vegan) month work for you. Read on to get a new perspective on diet and nutrition with Meatless March and then keep the themed days of food going by seeing what’s coming up for the 50 National Food Holidays for What’s Actually Healthy.
Why You Should Do Meatless March
1. We’re eating too much protein
The federal dietary guidelines recommend that the average adult needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, which comes out to 71 grams for the average man and 60 grams for the average woman. But those numbers are much lower than what Americans are eating: A National Health and Nutrition Examination report found that the average American man consumes 102 grams of protein a day, and the average woman about 70 grams. The 2015 dietary guidelines finally spoke out about the problem, advising that “teen boys and adult men need to reduce overall intake of protein foods by decreasing intakes of meats, poultry and eggs and increasing amounts of vegetables.” According to the USDA, meat alone contributes 40 percent of the daily protein intake of all Americans.
2. …And too few vegetables
The same 2015-2020 dietary guidelines found that the average intakes of vegetables across every single age and sex group is lower than the current recommended intake ranges. That goes for green, red and orange, starchy, and “other” vegetables as well as beans and legumes. The dietary guidelines recommend most individuals should “shift to consume more vegetables,” and that, “following a healthy eating pattern would include an increase in total vegetable intake from all vegetable subgroups, in nutrient-dense forms, and an increase in the variety of different vegetables.”
3. Too Much Protein Can Lead to Weight Gain
Among the 7 Things That Happen To Your Body When You Eat Too Much Protein, gaining weight is one of them. While a high-protein, low-carb diet may help you lose weight right off the bat, over the long-term, it can actually cause weight gain: According to a Spanish study, researchers had more than 7,000 participants fill out questionnaires about their eating habits over the course of six years. After analyzing the data, they found that those who ate high-protein diets had a 90 percent greater risk of gaining more than 10 percent of their body weight during the course of the study than those who ate less.
4. It Might Be Time for a Change
If you’ve hit a weight-loss plateau, it’s probably time to change something up about your diet, and one of the best ways to fight fat is with fiber-filled meatless meals! Dr. Sean M. Wells, the owner of Naples Personal Training explains, “Emerging research shows that focusing on high-fiber foods can help you shed pounds after other diets have caused a plateau, likely because the nutrient is so filling.” In fact, one study found that for every gram of fiber we consume, we eliminate seven calories from our diets later in the day.
5. You’ll Help Heal the Planet
The USDA’s Energy Use In The U.S. Food System report says that if a large number of people chose to eat less meat that would translate into substantially less energy used in the production of meat—that means we’d use less coal, oil, and diesel, and therefore send less dangerous CO2 into the air. It would also result in fewer cows sending methane gas—a greenhouse gas that is disastrously better than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere—into the air, as well as a significant decrease in water usage. It takes about 1,847 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef and 518 gallons per pound for chicken, according to a report by the Dutch Institute for Water Education.
6. You’ll Save Money
Going meatless will also slash your weekly budget! Meatless meals are built around vegetables, beans and grains instead of meat, which is usually more expensive. Using data from The United States Department of Labor, we found that in January 2016, the average price of meat per pound in America was $4.16 while the same pound of vegetables would cost you only $1.67. This difference in cost is primarily due to the fact that producing meat requires extra expenses like food, health maintenance, processing, and transportation.
7. It’s A Movement
Even though the number of vegetarians/vegans has remained around 2 percent of the U.S. population, more people are choosing to decrease their meat and dairy intake regardless of their dietary trend status, resulting in a 10 percent decrease in meat consumption per capita since 2007. And a recent survey by the Nutrition Business Journal found that about 26 percent of the U.S. population has said they’ve consciously chosen to eat less meat in the last 12 months. What does that look like exactly? In 2014, approximately 60,000 fewer dairy cows were raised on factory farms than in 2008, and 400 million fewer land animals were killed for food in the US than in 2013, according to The Humane Society.
8. Plant-based Protein is the Future
McDonald’s ex-CEO, who worked 25 years for the fast food giant that churns out 75 hamburgers a second, is now on the Board of Directors of a vegan company that wants to cut global meat consumption. Beyond Meat’s philosophy is that because of meat’s negative impact on animal welfare, global resources, and the environment, animal protein should be swapped out for plant-based protein. The company sells items called “Beast Burgers” and “Beyond Chicken Strips” that are made with non-GMO pea protein. It’s not just one company either. The 2015 Special Diets Report by the Nutrition Business Journal found that sales for vegetarian-specific foods are expected to grow at 6.9 percent between 2015 and 2018, a growth rate three times higher than what is predicted for total food sales.
9. It’s a Learning Opportunity
Meatless March is a great way to not only learn about a diet different than your own, but it’s also a wonderful opportunity to learn more about nutrition in general. You’ll start to think about food in a new light, discover alternative protein options, try new restaurants, new recipes, learn about local foods, experiment with different cooking techniques, and find ways to incorporate more healthy foods into your meal plan. Because the plan revolves around vegetables (and you might get sick of eating broccoli every day), you’ll be encouraged to branch out and try veggies that you’ve never tried before. Ever heard of sunchokes?
10. It’s Easy
That’s right. Going meat-free does not mean you have to start growing your own veggies or only subsist on a tofu diet. The fact is, you can find deliciously satisfying meat-free options in the grocery store. And if you follow the tips below, your meatless March will be a breeze!