Have you heard about Meatless Monday, the international campaign that encourages people to skip meat the first day each week?  Founded in 2003 in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for a Livable Future,  Meatless Monday’s aim is to discourage heavy meat consumption because it has been shown to pose health risks.

As a dietitian I believe meat has a place in a healthy diet. Lean cuts of meat are high in protein, which we need for healthy muscles, and rich in vitamins such as B vitamins, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid. They also provide minerals such as iron and zinc, which promote a healthy immune system. However, if you happen to eat a lot of meat, there are compelling health reasons to eat less:

Better Health: In a 2009 trial published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, approximately two thirds of study participants who reduced their meat consumption by one day reported improvements in their overall health, eating habits and physical activity levels.

Live Longer: Diets with high red and processed meat consumption are linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer deaths and overall mortality.  A Harvard Study found that by decreasing your meat intake you can reduce your risk of premature death by 19 percent.

Fight Obesity: Obesity is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., where 1 in 3 people are classified as obese or overweight.  Studies have shown that people who consume less meat and follow a higher vegetarian diet have a lower body weight and body mass index (BMI).

Improved Diet:  Eating more beans and vegetables in place of meat provides a big boost in fiber, protein, iron and other vitamins.  For example, a half cup of lentils provides 9g of protein and 7g of belly-filling fiber, which meat lacks.

Save Money & Time:  Going meatless even one day each week can save you money at the supermarket and time in the kitchen.  Higher-quality, healthier cuts of meat cost more than whole grains, vegetables and fruits, so meatless meals are economical. Vegetarian dishes are delicious and simple to prepare ahead of time – which makes it easy to get a healthy, tasty meal on the table in minutes.

Are you ready to go meatless next Monday?  Why not start by serving my delicious recipe for F-Factor Eggplant Lasagna!

For more delicious high fiber meal plans, recipes and tips on healthy eating, drinking and losing weight, check out my new book The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber!

Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a registered dietitian in New York City and bestselling author of The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with fiber as well as the F-Factor Diet. Follow Tanya on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and visit her website Ffactor.com.