October 12, 2011

Meatless Monday and Wheatless Wednesday. ~ Julie McGinnis M.S., R.D.

Photo: Gloria García

Whether for ecological purposes or healthy lifestyles, less is definitely more.

Think about the simple water conservation changes you may have made recently, like turning off the spigot while brushing your teeth, or the healthy choices you’ve made like reducing your overall calorie intake. These same types of choices can also be made when it comes to choosing whether to eat meat or wheat for dinner.

Recently, Americans have been leaning toward the “more is better” lifestyle choice. For example, in 2010, 12 out of 50 states had obesity rates of 30 percent or more. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that as of 2010, 79 million Americans have prediabetes—which works out to an alarming 35 percent of the adults over 20 in the United States have this condition. Prediabetes is a serious condition that significantly increases the risk of Type II diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Being overweight, inactive, and not getting enough sleep are part the package for developing prediabetes.

Photo: Howard Walfish

One way to reduce the risk of prediabetes, or perhaps prevent it altogether, is to adopt a vegetarian diet (even adopting a partial vegetarian diet has show to reduce the risk). The American Dietetic Association’s position, published in the July issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, represents the association’s official stance on vegetarian diets: “A well balanced vegetarian diet is often associated with health advantages including lower blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure levels and lower risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes.” What you eat every day has a huge impact on your health, and choosing to eat less meat and wheat might be right in line with what your body needs.

Along those lines, there are two new slogans-of-the-week that are gaining momentum: “Meatless Monday” and “Wheatless Wednesday.” According to FoodNavigator-USA.com, awareness of the ‘Meatless Monday’ campaign has recently reached more than half of Americans (50.22 percent of 2,000 American adults contacted in a nationally representative sample were aware of the campaign—up from 30 percent awareness six months ago). “Wheatless Wednesday” started at The Sink, an eatery in Boulder, Colorado, as a way to offer gluten-free dishes one day a week. Today, gluten-free menus are available every day of the week in many national chains and local eateries.

Photo: Beau Lebens

Meatless Monday

Let’s start with Meatless Monday. The inspiration came from a February 11, 2011 Oprah show where the staff was challenged by Oprah to eat a vegan diet for a week. Kathy Freston, author of Veganist was featured in the show and she helped folks with recipes and products to buy to adhere to a vegan diet. Freston is a New York Times best-selling author who writes about healthy living and conscious eating. Her intention is to support and inform anyone interested in “leaning in” to eating and living consciously. She says, “A veganist is someone who moves toward eating a plant based diet so that they are as physically healthy as they can be, environmentally friendly, and a kind and thoughtful human being.”

If you’re at all skeptical about what impact eating a vegetarian diet would have on your health, our economy, or global environmental concerns, take a look at the following information from Alternet.org.

Photo: Jeff Pamer

If everyone in the U.S. chose to eat a vegetarian diet for just one day we would save:

  • 100 billion gallons of water, enough to supply all the homes in New England for almost 4 months
  • 1.5 billion pounds of crops otherwise fed to livestock, enough to feed the state of New Mexico for more than a year
  • 70 million gallons of gas—enough to fuel all the cars of Canada and Mexico combined with plenty to spare
  • 3 million acres of land, an area more than twice the size of Delaware
  • 33 tons of antibiotics

If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would prevent:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 1.2 million tons of CO2, as much as produced by all of France

  • 3 million tons of soil erosion and $70 million in resulting economic damages
  • 4.5 million tons of animal excrement
  • Almost 7 tons of ammonia emissions, a major air pollutant

Photo: machinecodeblue

According to The Environmental Defense Fund, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads What an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint.

How’s that for proof that eating a vegetarian, or a stricter vegan, diet for just one day has some serious global impact?

What Should I Eat?

Let’s say you took the above information to heart and decided to make some changes in how you and your family eats, the question then becomes, “What’s for dinner?” If you’re going to embrace the idea of Meatless Monday, you will probably need to put more thought into what’s on the daily menu. Fruits, vegetables, dried beans and peas, grains, seeds, eggs, dairy products and nuts are all part of a vegetarian diet. If you’re not used to making dinner out of these ingredients, your first attempt might prove a little daunting and this is where some good recipe suggestions really come in handy.

Photo: ginnerobot

An easy place to start is to modify your favorite recipes and make them without meat. So, if you make meat lasagna, substitute spinach or another vegetable in its place. Try making veggie pizza, quesadillas, ravioli, stir fry with organic tofu, veggie soup with a grilled cheese sandwich, quiche, veggie burgers … the list goes on and on. Today, there are tons of great blogs with even more recipes to help you along. Try the Vegetarian Times Blog or The Lazy Vegetarian for great menu ideas. I would also consider The Post Punk Kitchen, International Vegetarian Union, and The Family Kitchen.

Where’s the Wheat?

Now for those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, Wheatless Wednesday is 24:7:365. To abate symptoms and improve health, wheat, which is one of the major grains that contains gluten, must be completely omitted from the diet (along with barley, rye, oats, spelt, and sprouted grains). For those looking to decrease the amount the wheat they consume in an effort to cut back on gluten—or maybe just eat more vegetables—one day a week is a great way to start.

Photo: Dag Terje Filip Endresen

Most of the wheat grown today has been genetically modified to be drought resistant and to contain more gluten. The increase in gluten content was intended to make baked goods chewier and more delicious; unfortunately for some of us, it has turned a grain that was already difficult to digest into something that is utterly indigestible.  For more information on how wheat has changed over time, visit my article “Gluten Then and Now.”

What Should I Eat?

Here is a list of some gluten-free alternative grains that you can use instead of wheat:

Brown Rice Flour has more nutritional value than whole wheat flour. Brown rice flour has three times the vitamin B6 of whole wheat flour and is has equal or more values for vitamins and minerals. This flour also contains alpha-linolenic acid, which is the precursor to making omega-3 fatty acids.

Buckwheat is actually made from fruit seeds and is related to rhubarb; it is not an actual cereal grain. Buckwheat is a very good source of magnesium, manganese, along with other vitamins and minerals. One cup of buckwheat flour supplies 75 percent of daily value for magnesium. Buckwheat has protein and fiber content similar to whole wheat flour, and, contains two flavonoids with significant health-promoting actions: rutin and quercetin. This flour also contains alpha-linolenic acid, which is the precursor to making omega-3 fatty acids. Like other cover crops, buckwheat enriches the soil with humus. Buckwheat grows well even in poor soils, making nutrients more available to subsequent plantings. The dense growth shades out weeds and the white flowers play host to beneficial insects such as syrphid flies and ladybugs.

While Coconut Flour is not a grain it is a powerhouse of fiber and protein and is low in carbohydrates. Since the rate of allergies to this tree nut is so rare it is considered to be hypo-allergenic. However, this can be a potential allergen for some people. Coconut flour is also great for baking. Although it is classified by the FDA as part of the tree nut family, it is actually in the palm family.

Whole Grain Sorghum is an ancient, drought resistant cereal grain grown worldwide. Recent research has shown that sorghum may have several components that could positively impact human health. Some sorghum strains have been found to be high in antioxidants—even higher than blueberries. In addition, the wax surrounding the sorghum grain contains compounds called policosanols that have been found in research to reduce cholesterol.

Quinoa has an amazing grain and contains all nine essential amino acids making it a complete protein. In addition to protein, quinoa is a very good source of manganese as well as a good source of magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus.

Millet is one of the oldest grains and although it is often used in birdseed it is great for people to eat too. Millet is 15% protein, contains high amounts of fiber, B-complex vitamins including niacin, thiamin, and riboflavin, the essential amino acid methionine, lecithin, and some vitamin E. It is particularly high in the minerals iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium.

Amaranth seed is high in protein and contains good amounts of the two amino acids lysine and methionine. Amaranth contains 3 times the amount of fiber as whole wheat and contains calcium (twice the calcium of milk), iron, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and C.

Oats are gluten-free but because of high rates of cross contamination in manufacturing, gluten intolerant people should buy the gluten-free variety to ensure safety. Oats contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which is great for promoting digestion and lowering cholesterol. The fiber in oats also balances blood sugar and they are good source of potassium and other minerals.

Photo: cgoodso

If you want to attempt some gluten-free baking, I recommend a gluten-free all-purpose flour mix because individual gluten-free flours cannot be substituted one-for-one with all-purpose wheat flour. Again, there are many gluten-free blogs with wonderful recipes:  www.theglutenfreebistro.com/blog, http://www.cybelepascal.com, http://www.elanaspantry.com, www.glutenfreerecipebox.com .

Today, there are also many gluten-free convenience foods, like: pizza, pasta, frozen dinners, soups, breads, and waffles, just to name a few.

If you want to combine Meatless Mondays with Wheatless Wednesdays, check out Carol Fenster’s, 125 Gluten-Free Vegetarian Recipes!

I challenge you to try to some new meal ideas. The environmental affects of these changes alone demonstrate how small changes can have a global impact. By trying new foods and eating less meat, we all benefit, and you may find that you enjoy Meatless Monday a few more days per week. As you make changes to your diet, take notice of any other changes to your waistline, digestion, mood, skin, and sleep habits. By eliminating food that does not work for your body and mind, you may just find that you feel better. Less may feel like more!

*This article was previously published at Bartlett’s Integrated Health Journal.


Julie McGinnis M.S., R.D., certified herbalist holds a Master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and has been involved in the field of nutrition for twenty years. Upon completion of her herbal certification, she began her career in complimentary health and worked for years in research and development for a professional line of nutrition supplements. She has written professional nutrition and health literature for national retailers and other small businesses. She is one of three owners of The Gluten Free Bistro in Boulder, CO a manufacturer of gluten-free pizza and pasta.



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