Four reasons to try meat-free Monday

This article appeared on the SumoSalad blog in September 2019. Click here for the original.

Turns out, there are health benefits aplenty from taking a mini-break from meat. Nutritionist Ashleigh James gives us the lowdown on why it’s worth giving Meat Free Monday a whirl.

It boosts your fibre intake

All that extra veg on your meat free Monday will help bump up your fibre intake. Dietary fibre is important for our digestive health and regular bowel movements. Fibre also helps you feel fuller for longer, can improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels and can assist in preventing some diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and bowel cancer. Fibre is only contained in plant foods, since it is essentially a carbohydrate. Resistant starch is a super type of fibre and is found in things like beans, different types of tubers and potatoes, and cooked and cooled pasta. It’s called resistant starch because it resists digestion in the colon, ferments and feeds the good bacteria. Australians have a pretty poor track record when it comes to fibre intake. On average, only roughly 30% Australian adults meet the minimum fibre requirements, and less that 20% met the suggested dietary intake (SDI), which is the intake needed to reduce risks of chronic disease. And even more alarming is that less than 1 in 10 adults met the recommendations for daily vegetable consumption in 2017–18. While you want to get plenty of veg in every day, taking a day off meat means there’s extra room for plant-based goodness!

You’ll get extra nutrients

Consciously eating more plants and less meat means you’re more likely to get in a few extra ‘colours’ for the day. Eat the rainbow – that’s what I always try to remember! Eating as many colours as possible is important for optimal health. Each colour in fruits and vegetables is caused by specific phytonutrients. For example, red fruits and vegetables contain lycopene and ellagic acid, which have been studied for their cancer-fighting effects, while orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin C and carotenoids, which helps promote healthy vision and cell growth. Green fruits and vegetables are rich in lutein, isothiocyanates, isoflavones and vitamin K — which is essential for blood and bone health. Greens also support immune health. Finally, blue and purple fruits and vegetables are rich in anthocyanins and resveratrol which have been studied extensively for their anti-cancer and anti-aging properties, as well as for their antioxidants, which work to repair damage from oxidative stress and inflammation.

It can reduce your risk for heart disease

Reducing your meat intake for a day a week can benefit your heart. There is now overwhelming evidence that diets high in animal protein are linked to heart disease. Red and processed meat in particular should be seen as an occasional food, rather than an everyday food. Luckily, there are now tonnes of meat alternatives on the market. You can get plant-based mince for burgers and spaghettis, veggie sausages, as well as major fast food chains offering vegan options. A plant-based diet is also the only diet that has been proven to halt the progression of heart disease.

You’ll eat a wider variety of foods

Changing up your diet one day a week is a good way to try different types of foods. Having a wide variety of food in your diet is beneficial for health, particularly for the gut microbiome. Different foods feed different good bacteria, so it’s a good idea to be eating lots of different fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, beans, nuts and a few animal foods if you choose. Having a varied diet also means you are more likely to be hitting all your micronutrient and mineral needs. I also really encourage people to eat seasonally, since fruit and vegetables are at their most nutritious when they are in season. Our bodies are designed to need the nutrients in foods throughout specific seasons – e.g. citrus in winter to fight off colds and salad greens in summer to provide lightness and energy. Finally, having a meal with many different flavours and textures also promotes satiety – have you ever noticed you are most satisfied after a meal with at least five main ingredients rather than a dish with two? Variety is the spice of life after all!

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