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In National Nutrition Month, try eating a little less meat

By: Karla Dumas
Registered Dietitian

Balancing your schedule between classes, studying, friends, work and maybe even sleep, you may not give much thought to what your next meal will be.

But before you grab that cheeseburger or pepperoni pizza, remember: what you put into your body today can set the stage for the rest of your life.

With March being National Nutrition Month, now is a good time to focus on making informed food choices.

Recently, the nation’s top health and nutrition experts made recommendations for the country’s upcoming 2015 dietary guidelines.

That advisory committee’s recommendations highlighted our country’s “suboptimal” dietary patterns. Our eating behaviors have contributed to more than two-thirds of adults and one-third of children becoming overweight or obese.

Diet recommendations can be misrepresented to the public thanks to the work of certain food interest groups that are more focused on selling their product than furthering public health.

We’ve been told to follow low-fat diets, high-protein diets and everything in between.

Despite the flood of  products catering to these types of diets in the grocery store aisles and restaurants, research indicates more Americans are becoming overweight or obese and getting sicker each year.

However, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee made strong, clear recommendations that show the least amount of political influence than we’ve seen in decades.

Their advice? Adopt a plant-strong diet, meaning more fruits and veggies and fewer animal products.

We need to put the emphasis back on whole, minimally processed foods, the best type of fuel to look and feel great now, while protecting you for years to come.

And you can start making small, impactful changes right now.

While the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages us to “bite into a healthy lifestyle,” the first bite could be to join the global Meatless Monday movement. Choosing to take a weekly holiday from meat is an easy way to enjoy more plant-strong meals.

As college dining services are offering more meatless options every day, some are dedicating entire dining halls to meatless meals.

The University of North Texas, for example, was the first in the nation to offer a meat-free dining hall with the majority of diners not vegetarian or vegan, but simply wanting delicious, satisfying, healthier meals.

Choosing meatless meals is easy on our time and wallets. At home, these meals can be prepared using a microwave, can opener, blender and stove or hot plate.

Fill up on protein-rich foods like a zesty bean and rice bowl, Mediterranean flatbread with hummus and olives, potato and chickpea curry, white bean chili or vegetable lo mein.

The benefits of a plant-strong diet reach even beyond our own personal health. The dietary committee reported that a diet higher in animal-based foods leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use and energy use.

That’s right, choosing more meatless meals helps protect the environment as well as your own health.

Reducing meat consumption also reduces the number of animals exposed to inhumane factory farm practices.

This is why the Humane Society of the United States embraces the Three R’s of eating: “reducing” or “replacing” consumption of animal products and “refining” our diets by choosing products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards.

Improving our own health – and the health of the planet – can be overwhelming. But in this case, we have the potential to make a significant difference, one bite at a time.

Karla Dumas RDN, is a Registered Dietitian with The Humane Society of the United States. For recipes or to get your dining hall involved, check out www.humanesociety.org/meatlessmonday.