This week, I will be cooking:
1. Leek, Ricotta, and Toasted Walnut Pizza on a Whole Wheat Crust
2. Skillet Gnocchi with White Beans and Swiss Chard
3. Butternut Squash Soup with Grilled Radicchio
and...wait for it...GIANT Chocolate Teddy Grahams
These are all vegetarian recipes, but you can add chicken to the pizza and lean ground beef or turkey to the gnocchi if you're not feeling all the meatless meals. However, you may want to consider going meatless for just one day a week.
According to the Meatless Mondays initiative, a collaboration between The Monday Campaigns and the Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, reducing your personal meat consumption by 15% (one day a week), will help improve your health and the health of our world. Going meatless just once a week can help reduce your risk of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease (like heart attacks and strokes). Why? Well, when you remove meat from your diet, you often replace it with foods that are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol - like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Fruits and vegetables have phytochemicals, which are like an immune system. Each family of fruits and vegetables has different types and combinations of phytochemicals. When we eat them, we add their swords and shields to our own army of disease-fighting compounds, strengthening our ability to fight off illness and filling gaps in our line of defense.
Whole grains, which you will find in the pizza crust and teddy grahams, are higher in fiber than refined grains (think white flour, white bread, grits, cornflakes, and pasta). The fiber in whole grains keeps you full longer, and helps control wild swings in blood sugar that can occur after eating carbohydrates. That's a big plus for pre-diabetics and those with diabetes who need to keep their glucose levels stable throughout the day. It can also be an effective tool in relieving constipation (if you drink enough water) and reduces the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels.
You'll also find more vitamins and minerals like B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium and selenium in whole grains. B vitamins help your body use energy and are important in creating red blood cells (B12 or B6 deficiencies can lead to anemia). Vitamin E and Selenium help defend your body from free radical damage. Magnesium is important for building strong bones.
Finally, if a lot of people commit to one less meaty meal a week, we can have a big impact on the environment. According to Meatless Mondays, "an estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef." In comparison, "soy tofu produced in California requires 220 gallons of water per pound." There are many other environmental and nutritional reasons to veg-out once a week, and you can read about them on their website.
Stay tuned for the first dish!
P.S. find more information on whole grains and other important nutrients on the Harvard School of Public Health's website, The Nutrition Source.