Are Meatless Mondays better for me and the environment?

Myth: Participating in Meatless Mondays is a simple step I can take to improve my own health and the health of our planet.

With Meatless Mondays conversations swirling in the news, you may wonder if eating vegetarian meals one day a week can actually improve your health and help the environment in the process. But you might be surprised to find out the reported benefits of Meatless Mondays may not live up to the promise.

The Facts: Meat, and beef in particular, is good for you AND good for the planet. In fact, eating vegetarian meals isn’t a shortcut to saving the planet or eating healthy and may actually do more harm than good.

Research shows that the healthiest diets include moderate portions of nutrient-rich meat and poultry. Contrary to Meatless Monday campaign claims, beef is both environmentally and nutritionally efficient – cattle farming requires less land, water and energy than in the past and provides 10 essential nutrients to your diet.

Here are some common questions people ask when it comes to Meatless Mondays:

Isn’t Meatless Mondays a way to help cut down our meat consumption, since we are eating way too much meat?

Americans are eating within the recommended amount for meat: The USDA daily recommended amount of meat is 1.8 oz. According to studies, Americans are currently consuming about 1.7 oz of beef daily.Interestingly, Americans have not increased their percent of calories from protein in 30 years.

Isn’t Meatless Mondays good for your health because you’re eating more fruits and vegetables?

  • Different food groups are important: All of the food groups offer different but complementary nutrients. Americans should be eating more fruits and vegetables, but the key to healthy eating is to avoid foods with empty calories and instead choose the most nutrient rich foods within a food group.
  • Lean beef is nutrient rich: A 3-oz serving of lean beef provides 10 essential nutrients like zinc, iron, protein and B-vitamins for about 150 calories on average. In fact, it takes two to three times more calories to get the same amount of protein from plant-based meat alternatives. Beef is an excellent source of vitamin B12, an essential nutrient that is not naturally available in plant protein sources.
  • Meat is an important part of a balanced diet: The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americansrecommends that we choose a variety of protein foods, including lean meat and poultry. 
  • Meat is a “complete” source of high-quality protein: Protein found in meat is “complete,” meaning it contains all the essential amino acids the body cannot produce on its own. Check out this recent article in Self magazine about complete proteins, like lean beef, which can aid in weight loss.
  • Fewer calories: A 3-ounce serving of lean beef (about 150 calories) provides about the same amount of protein as 1 ½ cups of cooked black beans (341 calories), but in less than half the calories.
  • Heart-health: Research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutritionshowed that eating lean beef, as part of a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle, can improve cholesterol levels .

For more on how meat fits into a healthy diet, check out this Meatless Mondays fact sheet by the Animal Agriculture Alliance.

Will Meatless Mondays really help the planet?

  • Miniscule impact: According to Dr. Jude Capper at Washington State University, the environmental impact of every American following Meatless Mondays is miniscule – the impact of one meatless day per week is less than one half of one percent of the U.S. carbon footprint.
  • Sustainable beef: U.S. cattlemen raise 20 percent of the world’s beef with 7 percent of the world’s cattle, making the United States a leader in raising sustainable beef, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (2011).
  • Vested interest in the environment: America’s cattle ranchers have a vested interest in sustainable environmental practices – after all, the beef community thrives on multi-generational family farms. On average, each cattle farmer has 13 different practices in place to accomplish environmental goals such as nurturing wildlife, preventing erosion and conserving and protecting water.

Farming and the Environment

A progress report comparing raising beef from 1977 to 2007 found that the carbon footprint of beef has been reduced by 16 percent over the past 30 years.

Each pound of beef raised in 2007 used less of the following: feed (19%), land (33%), water (12%), fossil fuel energy (9%) and carbon (16%).

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