What can you do to help the environment, help animals, save money, and improve your health? The solution is simple: Eat less meat. I am not here to convert you to a vegetarian diet, but want you to realize how much of an effect you can have by trying it for a short time or even just avoiding meat once a week. You would first save a lot of money. The cost of meat is obviously much higher than most vegetarian items (think of the cost of production for meat, which translates into higher prices in stores). You could save hundreds to thousands of dollars each year depending on how many meals you or your family substitutes. You would also save money on medical bills, since eating less meat (especially red meat) has been found to be beneficial to your health.
Vegetarians have been found to live longer, healthier, and slimmer lives. The diet can add about seven years to one’s life, according to a 2001 study titled Vegetarian Nutrition (which has been backed up by other studies). It can also lead to weight loss. Meat-eaters have three times the obesity rate of vegetarians and vegetarians are 10% lighter on average. A 50% reduction in meat consumption decreases your risk of heart attack by 45% (source: The Prophet’s Way). Non-lean red meat in particular has been found to be directly associated with increased risk of lung, liver, colon and esophagus cancers. A meat-based diet offers higher levels of saturated fat and cholesterol and can increase risk of dementias, such as Alzheimer’s. It can also increase your risk of osteoporosis, since excess protein in the diet can affect calcium absorption.
By eating less meat, you would also significantly lower your carbon footprint. Raising animals on farms requires a substantial amount of water, land, and energy (not to mention the greenhouse gases emitted by cow flatulence!). If every American skipped just one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than a half-million cars off U.S. roads (2006 United Nations initiative titled “Livestock’s Long Shadow,”). You save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you do by not showering for an entire year. By reducing your meat intake, you will also be helping animals by decreasing support of the meat industry. It is estimated that a single person consumes about 100 animals in his or her lifetime, and many of those animals endure a lot of unnecessary suffering on factory farms.
Here is more information on how eating less meat is beneficial for the environment: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-friedrich/meat-consumption-impact-environment_b_3274251.html
Now that you have learned the impact of avoiding meat, let’s get you started on the best way to carry it out. Now I know the first question on your mind: Do vegetarians get enough protein? The answer is “yes.” Vegetarianism provides more than sufficient protein as long as the proper sources are consumed. The average American actually gets almost double the recommended amount of protein per day. Good sources of protein for vegetarians include nuts, soy products, cereals, eggs and dairy products.
Here’s my challenge to you: Avoid meat just one day a week. If you’re feeling brave, avoid it for an entire week and see how easy it is. If there are any meat products that you really enjoy and don’t think you can give up, try substituting them with a vegetarian option (for example, veggie burgers). Be sure to try different brands to see what you like. Check out this site for more ideas on cooking vegetarian meals: http://www.vegetariantimes.com/recipes/.
Before you know it, you’ll be saving money, feeling better, AND helping the environment!