Stay lean and green this semester with Meatless Mondays

Starting college can be an exciting yet daunting experience. It’s not surprising that, with all the stress that comes with it, many new students gain the dreaded “freshman 15.” A study published in Nutrition Journal found that nearly a quarter of freshmen gain at least 5 percent of their body weight during their first semester, an average of about 10 whopping pounds in just a few months. 

In an effort to help students look and feel great, a movement toward offering more plant-based meals is taking root on college campuses nationwide. In fact, there are more than 100 universities leading the charge with Meatless Monday programs in their dining halls.

Why take a weekly holiday from meat? In recent decades, our meat consumption has increased dramatically and along with it, our waistlines, blood pressure and cholesterol. Meat — especially red meat — is high in saturated fat, which is associated with obesity and preventable chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and stroke.

Even if we can’t switch to a completely plant-based diet, we can make incremental changes. Kaiser Permanente is a prominent health care and insurance provider. It recently published a “Plant-Based Diet” guide that states, “Any movement toward more plants and fewer animal products can improve your health.”

Eating more healthy plant-based meals not only helps our physical health, but it can also lighten our carbon footprint.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, animal agriculture is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” Factory farms — where much of our meat comes from — are major culprits in contributing to climate change. These animal factories create huge amounts of manure that pollute the soil, water and air.

Reducing the amount of meat we eat is good for animals, too. The fewer animals we raise for food results in less pressure on animal agriculture to raise them in cruel and intensive ways.

To help animals, the Humane Society of the United States advocates the three R’s: “reducing” or “replacing” consumption of animal products and “refining” our diets by switching to products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards.

Thankfully, it’s never been easier to take a positive step toward safeguarding our health while also protecting the planet and helping animals. Choosing simple, delicious plant-based options once a week can make a big difference.