What if, just one day a week, you cut out the beef, chicken and pork that are usually the centerpiece of your plate? According to the Meatless Monday campaign, run in association with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, reducing your meat intake has a host of health benefits. If you eat less saturated fat (the type found in meat) and more polyunsaturated fat (found in nuts and vegetable oils), you'll reduce your risk of heart disease. Cutting back on meat may also reduce your risk of diabetes, could help you lose weight and help you live longer overall. So, why not give it a try? Here are ways to cut the meat out of all three meals of the day.
If breakfast meats are your thing, pair your morning cereal with a product made from soy instead of pork, such as MorningStar Farms "sausage" patties. You get the same savory seasonings but less of the unhealthy fat (77 percent less than cooked pork sausage, as a matter of fact). Otherwise, opt for that bowl of cereal (one to try: Kellogg's Smart Start) with milk, along with a tasty serving of fruit.
Many meat-free soups will satisfy. Think minestrone, mushroom barley or miso made with tofu. Or how about a salad? Instead of adding grilled chicken or bacon bits, toss on some chickpeas or your favorite bean. Beans contain fiber, but can have rather embarrassing side effects. To counter this, use canned beans instead of dry, as the canning process removes some of the sugars that produce gas. Instead of greasy, fried croutons, consider sprinkling a wholesome type of cereal (like Kellogg's Special K) on top of your salad for a satisfying crunch. If sandwiches are your thing, get yours with all the fixings, add some avocado and cheese, and expect to feel quite full afterward from all that roughage. But watch your salad dressing intake -- many creamy recipes are high in fat and calories.
Make tacos with refried beans instead of ground meat. Or try something out of the ordinary, such as tofu and tempeh. When eaten as a replacement for foods high in animal fats, these soy-based foods may prove beneficial to heart health, according to the American Heart Association. Marinate tofu in your favorite stir-fry sauce and then sauté it with a colorful array of vegetables. Tofu can also be combined with ricotta cheese to add protein to meat-free lasagna. Tempeh is similar to tofu and is a sliceable cake that can be used in many recipes. Add diced tempeh as a pizza topping or add grated tempeh to spaghetti sauce for a meatless bolognese.
So take the challenge: Make one day a week meatless. Not only will you explore new foods, you'll do something good for your body at the same time.
Cynthia Ramnarace writes frequently about health, nutrition and older adults. Her writing can be found in O, the Oprah Magazine, AARP Bulletin, Prevention.com, iVillage.com and EverydayHealth.com.