There are a few places across there globe where inhabitants regularly live fit and fully over the age of 100. Communities like Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; and Okinawa, Japan host some of the world’s largest populations of centenarians. Key similarities in the cities were studied by Dan Buettner and his findings were inspiring. They all had a deep sense of purpose and belonging through faith and culture. Strong relationships, family, and being active are top priorities in their daily life, as well as activity and exercise were regular parts of life. They all eat mostly plants and whole foods, basically vegetarians, with a few eating small amounts of meat on special occasions. So when we stress less, love more, and move often we live healthier happier lives. But can eating a vegetarian diet, or simply less meat, make us healthier?

People become vegetarians for many reasons: health, environment, religion, or simple taste preferences. Properly planned vegetarian diets are often low in saturated fat, high in fiber, and nutritionally balanced. In fact, the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines state a vegetarian diet is a healthful eating pattern. There is no doubt, the research shows, that vegetarian style diets can lower risk for heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer. Dr. Dean Ornish has researched and proven that when combined with exercise and stress management, his vegan diet plan can prevent and even reverse heart disease.

From an environmental perspective plant based diets can have a positive impact on our planet. Animal products require more resources like water, man power, fuel, and land resulting in more environmental pollutants. Agricultural production alarmingly accounts for 70% of our fresh water consumption. Sure, a single cow doesn’t take up that much space. However, when you consider the massive amounts of plants and water it takes to feed the cow during its lifespan, it greatly surpasses the needs of plant proteins. These plant based options, like lentils and beans, can instead go straight from farm to fork. You save enough water for two hundred showers simply by choosing one veggie meal over a meat each week for a year. If you did the same for a family of five for a year you’d save 18,000 gallons of water, 922 care miles of greenhouse gas emissions and 5,000 square feet of land*.

Bottom line, you do not have to become a strict vegetarian or vegan to make a difference for your planet or health. Simply reducing the amount of meat you eat and increasing your vegetable and legume intake can make a difference. If nothing else, simply trying new meatless meals can add some variety (and fiber) to your family’s dinner plate and ease your budget. Most people find it easiest to replace part or all the meat in a favorite dish with beans, lentils, or tofu. Make simple substitutions like replacing half the ground beef in meat loaf, tacos, or meat balls with black beans or lentils. Need a place to start?

Warm up your winter with this protein packed tomato soup. Try pureeing other beans and lentils into your favorite creamy soups for a protein fiber punch.

Creamy Tomato Lentil Soupvegetables environmental impact lentil soup recip
Serves 8
Ingredients:
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
½ cup diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup of dry split red lentils
1 can (28oz) whole tomatoes or 2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes
1 (5.5oz) can tomato paste
1 Tablespoon liquid honey
¼ cup fresh or jarred basil pesto
¼ cup ½ and ½ cream or coconut milk
½ tsp ground black pepper
Salt to tasteInstructions:

1 Heat a pot or Dutch oven on medium heat, add oil and onion. Sauté until clear, or 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another 3 minutes. If using a crock pot add some stock the pan to loosen brown bits and transfer crock pot after this step.

2. Add stock, lentils, tomatoes, tomato paste and honey to pot. Simmer covered on low for 30-45 minutes or 5-6 hours on low for a crock pot.

3. Puree soup with an immersion blender. Stir in pesto, pepper and cream. Salt to taste.
Nutrition Information

Calories: 215, Protein 10g, Carbohydrates 26g, Fiber 8g, Total Fat 10g, Sat Fat 2g.

Excellent source of B6, Vitamin C, Folate, Thiamin, Niacin, Potassium and Iron

For more information on plant based eating, recipes, tips, and meal planning visit: http://www.eatright.org/search?keyword=vegetarian+

*A Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Plant-Based Foods and Meat Foods Summary (Quantis & MorningStar Farms®, 2016)