On the Menu: Why ‘Meatless Monday’ plan is good news all round
Apart from tackling the obesity epidemic, there are huge environmental benefits linked to the pledge
Meatless Monday: If Americans were motivated to remove meat from their diet for just one day a week, approximately 45 billion gallons of petrol could be spared in one year. Photograph: Getty Images
A black bean burrito on white pitta bread: it remains to be seen whether or not the Meatless Monday movement will catch on here. Photograph: Getty Images
The Meatless Monday movement started during the first World War, primarily to conserve food and support US troops. Today its thrust is about preserving the health of the nation. In 1917, New York city hotels saved an estimated 116 tons of meat over the course of just one week. Millions of American families, hotels and caterers signed up to support the campaign while food supplies were scarce.
Today the Meatless Monday pledge promises health and environmental benefits. In 2003 the movement re-emerged to nudge people to become more conscious consumers. It was launched by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore in the United States.
Today they have Meatless Monday options in every Baltimore schools’ lunch menu to increase children’s intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
It is considered to be a huge step towards reducing the obesity epidemic but this will depend on what is put on the plate instead of the “meat”, and whether or not it’s eaten.
Restaurants, workplaces and hospitals continue to pledge their support for the programme and cut meat from their menus once a week, to improve health and reduce the carbon footprint of their patrons.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a more plant-based diet, with more emphasis on vegetables, beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and with moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, eggs and dairy products.
The world’s largest organisation of food and nutrition professionals, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, state that, “Vegetarian eating patterns have been associated with improved health outcomes, including lower levels of obesity, a reduced risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure.
“Also vegetarians tend to consume a lower proportion of calories from fat and fewer overall calories, and more fibre, potassium and vitamin C than non-vegetarians.”
Other lifestyle factors
What we don’t know is how much protection comes from the diet as opposed to other lifestyle factors that vegetarians tend to adopt.
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health published a paper on red meat consumption in the journal Circulation in 2010.
They found that eating processed meat (as little as one to two slices of deli meat per day) was associated with a 42 per cent higher risk of heart disease and a 19 per cent higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
Their definition of processed meat included any red meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or with the addition of chemical preservatives. Examples included bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs, processed deli or luncheon meats.
Unprocessed red meat
However, the systematic review did not find an increased risk of heart disease or diabetes among individuals eating unprocessed red meat, such as beef, pork or lamb.
“Although cause-and-effect cannot be proven by these types of long-term observational studies, all of these studies adjusted for other risk factors, which may have been different between people who were eating more versus less meats,” the researchers noted.
“Also, the lifestyle factors associated with eating unprocessed red meats and processed meats were similar, but only processed meats were linked to higher risk.”
A recent study presented at the American Society of Human Genetics last year found that people with a common genetic variant who consume red or processed meat may increase their risk of colorectal cancer.