52 Opportunities for Rejuvenation

July 27th, 2009

renew!Don’t worry, this isn’t a promotion for the latest skin treatment or another time-share deal. It is however a reminder that something important happens 52 times a year. What do Mondays mean to you? Do you jump out of bed excited to start a new week? Or are you lethargic, seeing the world in shades of gray? If we treat every Monday as a time for renewal, we can improve our nation’s health, save money on healthcare and have happier weeks 52 times a year.

Monday’s root meaning is "new moon,’ a new beginning, like January 1st. Most people relish the New Year as an opportunity to change their behaviors. Gyms are suddenly packed, people forsake desserts and take lunchtime power walks. However, by February, most people have reverted to their old ways. The buzz at gyms has gone, cupcake sales are back up and power walks have been replaced by power lunches.

The nation’s long-term commitment to a healthier diet is obviously not working as obesity rates continue to climb. According to the Centers for Disease Control, only Colorado has an obesity rate of less than 20% and a whopping 32 states have rates that are 25% or greater. This is astounding. Some of the effects of obesity include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and respiratory problems. Obesity results in 300,000 premature deaths annually, and the epidemic costs our country a staggering 100 billion dollars in healthcare each year.

Our huge meat consumption, aided by high levels of sugar and fatty foods, is helping fuel this epidemic. According to the Archives of Internal Medicine, eating red meat every day increases your risk of dying from cancer or heart disease by 30%. Higher morality rates are also found in those who eat processed meats.

The good news is there are simple lifestyle changes you can make every Monday that will have a profound impact. One of the easiest things to do is skip meat and eat lower on the food chain. That means choosing fresh fruits and vegetables that aren’t processed, coated in high-fructose corn syrup or bathed in fat. Of course you can eat three vegetarian meals a day and still find your calorie intake is high and you lack vital nutrients. But, by cutting out meat on Monday, you’re already taking a step in the right direction.

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According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), the numerous health benefits of a plant-based diet include:

    1. Prevents cancer. Veggie foods are low in saturated fat, high in fiber and filled with cancer-fighting phytochemicals.

    2. Prevents heart disease. According to the PCRM, "animal products are the main source of saturated fat and the only source of cholesterol in the diet.’

    3. Lowers blood pressure. Regardless of sodium levels, studies have found a plant-based diet results in lower blood pressure levels.

    4. Prevents or reverses diabetes. A combination of regular exercise and a low-fat plant-based diet can help to control or eliminate adult-onset diabetes.

    5. Reduces your chance of developing gallstones or kidney stones. Again, numerous studies have linked plant-based diets to lowering your chance of developing either.

    6. Decreases your risk of osteoporosis. In societies with primarily plant-based diets, generally lower rates of osteoporosis exist.

The benefits of going meatless just one day a week are clear. But if this seems daunting, don’t fret. There is a wealth of resources to help you make the transition.

Here are some easy suggestions:

    1. Visit your local farmers market to stock up on fresh fruits and veggies.

    2. Plan your meals for the day. There are delicious recipes available on this site and at the Humane Society.

    3. Want to eat out? Whether you’re in Albuquerque, Adelaide or Anchorage, there are plenty of fantastic vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants worldwide.

    4. Figure out what to do with the money you’ll save. Each Monday, you’ll have extra change left over by purchasing these lower-cost foods.

    5. Have a friend or family member join you. It’s a lot easier to make life changes when you have the support of others.

Meatless Mondays are a simple yet radical way to change yourself and the planet. By choosing a plant-based diet for just one day a week, you’ll not only nourish your body, you’ll rejuvenate your soul 52 times a year!

Sarah Newman is a researcher and writer at Participant Media (Food Inc., An Inconvenient Truth) in Los Angeles and a frequent contributor to Huffington Post.