There has been a lot of press coverage recently about the Meat Free Mondays campaign, fronted by the former Beatle and committed vegetarian, Sir Paul McCartney.
The aim of the campaign is to get more people thinking about what they are eating, and trying to have at least one day in the week where they eat no meat or fish. As well as having health benefits and weight loss benefits, there is also an environmental benefit to going meat free one day out of seven.
A recent study by the United Nations concluded that the intensive farming practices used to raise meat are as damaging to the environment as transport pollution. Just as we are being encouraged to use our cars less, consuming less meat can have an equally beneficial effect on our carbon footprint. There are further concerns that rainforests are being depleted to provide grazing for intensively reared cattle.
A well-balanced vegetarian diet is generally lower in fat and higher in fibre than a meat eating diet and vegetarians are less likely to develop heart disease and high blood pressure problems. Adopting vegetarian principles into a mainstream diet, and going meat-free at least one day per week can help bring these benefits to the meat eating population too.
Many people are reluctant to try a vegetarian day once per week as they are unsure about alternative sources of protein. They may also be concerned that a vegetarian diet may not be suitable for the whole family. It may be true that it takes a little more thought and effort into preparing a vegetarian meal, especially for people who are accustomed to eating meat every day, but there are many appropriate sources of protein and nearly all vegetarian meals are suitable for all of the family.
Although meat is undeniably a good source of protein, there are many other foods available to vegetarians which are equally good. Grains such as quinoa, which can be eaten as a substitute for rice or pasta is very high in protein and fibre. Beans, peas and lentils are rich in protein too, and can be used to create appetizing dishes such as vegetarian chillis, spicy Indian dahl or soups. Nuts and seeds are a protein-rich snack and dairy products and eggs are also high in protein levels. Many of us will have tins of lentils and a box of eggs in the cupboard and no special shopping trip is required to make a tasty vegetarian meal.
One of the best protein sources is the group of foods known as legumes, which include foods such as lentils and beans. These foods are also high in fibre and basing a meal around legumes is one of the healthiest options available. Fibre-rich foods take longer to digest and as a consequence keep you feeling fuller for longer. A protein filled lunch based around beans and lentils is therefore an ideal choice for people trying to drop a few kilos of weight or just adopt a generally more healthy approach to eating. Legumes are versatile and can be used in many different ways; for example some types of beans can be pureed along with herbs, spices and vegetables to make healthy and tasty veggie burgers. There are numerous vegetarian cookbooks and recipe sections on websites to inspire you to get creative with that tin of kidney beans.