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[Practically Speaking]

An expert’s advice: “greening” our menus benefits health as well as the planet

By Amy Joy Lanou, Ph.D.

Amy Lanou

Amy Lanou on going vegetarian.

While we scramble to switch to vehicles that guzzle less gas, buy lightbulbs that use less energy, walk more, and try strategies that limit the impact of rising fuel costs on our lives and the environment, we could multiply that impact by greening our menus. Take a moment and think of your body as an environment, an environment that is your personal home. If you were to shift your “green thinking” to your personal home, how might you better fuel it? One simple strategy will go a long way to improving your “home” environment—go vegetarian.

Going Green for Thanksgiving

This hearty and delicious holiday menu is made largely from locally available whole food ingredients. Visit food for thought for recipes and updated holiday favorites.

Menu

Shitake Paté and Roasted Eggplant Dip with Crusty Whole Grain Bread

Acorn Squash with Herbed Stuffing

Garlic Mashed New Potatoes

Mushroom Gravy

Roasted Sweets and Beets

Green Beans with Shallots

Steamed Brussels Sprouts

Apple Berry Sauce

Pumpkin Pie or your family’s favorite dessert

Going vegetarian, or simply limiting the amount of food from animal sources consumed, decreases food cost, improves personal health, and reduces the environmental impact of our eating habits. All over the world, people with limited incomes avoid animal products because of their high cost. That’s because the least expensive energy- and nutrient-dense foods are grains, starchy vegetables and legumes—all foods from plant sources. You can see that at the grocery store. Recently at a local market, frozen salmon was $3.99 a pound, chicken breast was $3.48 a pound, flank steak was $7.99 a pound, and cheddar cheese was $3.48 pound. Compare that to the cost of rice at 78 cents a pound, dried black beans at the same cost (canned are 73 cents per 15-ounce can), and sweet potatoes at 88 cents a pound. Even tofu and organic brown rice were only about $2 a pound.

Add to that the fact that one pound of dry beans makes eight to 10 generous 1-cup servings whereas one pound of meat can be split into four modest portions—making the cost per serving of beans about 8 cents compared to the cost per serving of salmon, about $1, and steak at about $2.

And the cheaper foods also have a strikingly better nutrient profile than meat. Plant foods contain zero cholesterol, very little fat, and hearty doses of cancer-fighting fiber and phytochemicals. That’s a key reason why vegetarian diets significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, the two most common causes of death in the United States. Recent studies also show that vegetarians tend to be leaner, have lower blood pressure and lower risk of diabetes than their meat-eating peers.

As illustrated by the World Health Organization, the resource (land, water, energy, etc.) cost and environmental impact of livestock production is many times that of plant food production. In fact, according to researchers at the University of Chicago, the energy and environmental cost of meat production is so great that we each could do more to help the environment by switching to a vegetarian diet than by switching from an SUV to a hybrid vehicle.

So this year as the holiday season approaches, consider giving thanks to your body and the planet by switching to a vegetarian eating style. Helpful information on how to switch over and delicious, healthy recipes can be found at www.nutritionMD.org. Share the gift of good health by enjoying a whole-foods vegetarian holiday meal.