'Meatless Monday' may mean more fruits, veggies

"Meatless Monday," a campaign to encourage people to skip meat one day a week mainly for health reasons, appears to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables, according to the group's latest survey.

When 1,000 Americans were asked about their meat-eating habits, 59% said they have cut back on meat in the past year, says Peggy Neu, president of The Monday Campaigns.

This nonprofit initiative runs Meatless Monday and other efforts to prompt behavior changes on the first day of the week, which experts consider a prime time to improve.

The Meatless Monday campaign is associated with The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse and Columbia Universities.

Meanwhile, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association doesn't see the need. It contends that lean beef can be part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Meatless Monday: Update

Meatless Monday was launched in 2003, says Neu, in response to advice to cut down saturated fat intake and eat healthier.

Skipping meat one day a week could translate to about a 15% reduction in saturated fat, Neu says.

Meatless Monday has become a global movement, according to Neu. Schools, work sites, restaurants, and communities are participating.

Other findings from this year's survey:

  • 41% of those surveyed say they are trying to cut down on the amount of meat they eat.
  • 3% say they have eaten more meat in the past year than before.
  • One-third say they have not cut back and won't consider it.
  • 62% say health is the main reason they are eating less meat or thinking about it.

What do those who skip meat on Monday eat instead?

  • 73% say more vegetables.
  • 65% say more fruits.
  • 42% say more beans.
  • 47% say more whole grains.

The campaign can help people better follow the U.S. 2010 Dietary Guidelines, Neu says. Those call for less saturated fat, more fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains.

Medical research suggests that diets high in saturated fat, especially red and processed meat, raise the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and some cancers.

Magic of Monday?

Behavior experts call Monday ''the January of the week," Neu says.

"It's a reset day for health," she says. "People start diets, exercise regimens on Monday, and stop smoking."

"The idea is to tap into that naturally reoccurring cycle and mindset," Neu says.

It also gives people a simple way to put their intentions into practice.

The campaign is ''really a simple solution to get a message out," says Judy Caplan, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a dietitian in Vienna, Va.

"What I like about it is, they are not proselytizing, they are offering a solution [to cut fat intake]," she says.

It also gets people thinking about how to get protein without relying on meat, she says.

Her suggestions to do so: a veggie burger, whole wheat pasta with pesto, or a whole wheat tortilla with black beans.

The Meatless Monday campaign is not associated with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) or HSUS (the Humane Society of the U.S.), Neu says.

The organization has also launched Healthy Monday to encourage people to use Monday as a launching point for starting other healthy behaviors.

Beef Makers Weigh In

Beef is nutritionally efficient, according to Shelley Johnson, a dietitian and associate director of food and nutrition outreach for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

In a statement, she also says: "There are many delicious ways to build a healthy plate with lean beef. Pairing produce with a favorite food like beef can help encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables, meet the Dietary Guidelines recommendations, and live a healthy lifestyle."

Meat-Eater to Meatless Monday: One Woman's Story

Kim Watkins, a New York City personal trainer and avid runner, and her husband Brian Quill used to eat meat, she says, seven days a week.

They're foodies, for sure, enjoying dining out and indulgent dishes.

While she ran it all off, her husband could not always say the same.

So last June, when Watkins heard about Meatless Monday, she gave it a try. "My goal was to bring some awareness to my husband and our child about the impact this dinner meat consumption is having on our bodies."

She's kept the Meatless Monday habit, but still eats meat the other six nights.

Along the way, she says, she's found a colorful world of vegetables and other substitutes for that steak.

"It's easy and so much fun,'' she says. "We really don't need so much meat in our lives."

SOURCES: Peggy Neu, president, The Monday Campaigns.Kim Watkins, New York City personal trainer.Judy Caplan, RD, Vienna, Va., dietitian and spokesperson, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.Statement, Shelley Johnson, RD, associate director, Food and Nutrition Outreach, National Cattlemen's Beef Association.Survey, The Monday Campaigns, Meatless Monday, October 2012.

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