Vegetarian for a Day a Week — Why?


Many of you know that I am a semi-vegetarian. That is, I eat fish, eggs and dairy but not poultry or meat. As a nutritionist, I believe this is a very healthy way to eat, although I also believe in personal choice. In fact a healthy diet, in my opinion, can also include organic poultry and meat as well. So in my practice, I’ve never felt it appropriate to suggest that my clients make the same personal choices that I’ve made. I do feel it’s responsible however, to encourage everyone to include at least some non-animal sources of protein in their diet. That’s why I’m advocating that all would benefit from going “vegetarian-for-a-day” at least once a week. It’s good for our health. It’s good for our environment. And it’s also good for animal welfare.

Undeniably, animal protein has a greater environmental cost. For example, producing a single pound of beef requires 2500 gallons of water, which is 40 times more water than to produce a pound of greens or carrots. Overall there is an immense energy cost to raising cattle and then transporting the meat to supermarket shelves. Also, cows are fed enormous amounts of antibiotics, which is why I only recommend organic, antibiotic-free poultry and meat. Lastly, livestock are responsible for 20% of the methane in the atmosphere, which is the number two source of greenhouse gas. These are just some of the environmental reasons for consuming less animal products.

There are also health benefits. Data from the National Nutrition and Health Examination Survey (1999-2000) was presented at the Experimental Biology Conference. The study found that adults who ate beans (a great source of vegetarian protein) weighed 6.6 lbs. less, and teenagers weighed 7.3 lbs. less than those that didn’t include beans in their diet. Adult bean eaters consume less total fat and less saturated fat than non-bean eaters and have a 22% lower risk of obesity. The fiber intake is more than one-third higher than non-bean eaters. Bean eaters have 3/4 to 1 inch smaller waist sizes (giving new meaning to the word beanpole!). Beans are one of the highest sources of fiber and previous studies have shown that high-fiber diets may help reduce body weight, reduce appetite and the number of calories consumed at a meal. Beans also reduce the risk of heart disease, colon cancer and certain other cancers.

As many of you know, I also recommend an anti-inflammatory diet in some form for most people who want to be healthy, which requires having a serving of protein at each meal. So how would you get this protein at each meal? Well, there are non-animal product sources and non-animal flesh sources of protein.

Examples of a serving of protein:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup or more of cooked beans or lentils (depending on the type of bean)
  • 3/4 cup of cottage cheese
  • 1 cup of greek yogurt
  • 1/2 –1 cup tofu or tempeh (depending on the type)
  • 15-25 grams of protein powder to use in a fruit smoothie (from whey, rice, or vegetable source)

A non-animal product day would include just beans, tofu or tempeh and protein powder. Of course, some people are allergic to soy and may have to eliminate that option.

If you are not used to beans, or they produce gas for you, try Beano liquid, available at most food stores. Just use a few drops on the first bite of beans and that should solve the problem.

Not a tofu eater? May I suggest, if you haven’t tried fresh tofu, you haven’t really had tofu. In the Bay Area, there is a company that sells fresh tofu (made that morning) and fresh soy milk. They have regular, marinated and several other tofu products that are excellent! It’s non-GMO soy, and no junk added at all. I highly recommend their products. Try it and let me know what you think. Currently, they only sell at area Farmer’s Markets. Check them out at the following farmer’s markets: San Francisco Ferry Building, The Marin Civic Center and the Berkeley Farmer’s Market. You may want to check their website for schedules: I’ll bet they’ll even give you recipe tips. If you are not in the Bay Area, look for fresh tofu and soy products in your area.

Try one no-flesh day a week, and perhaps a no-animal product day a week as well. It’s very easy to do, it just requires planning. And you can feel good about doing a little something for the environment too!