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Changing Your Diet, One Meatless Monday at a Time

The Benefits of Plant Based Eating

Article by Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN

Photography by Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN

Originally published in Newtown City Lifestyle

Benefits of Plant Based Eating

Despite some confusion on the definition of plant based, it does not mean following an eating pattern excluding meat. While a vegan, or animal void diet, has plenty of benefits, those can be obtained simply by reducing intake of animal foods in lieu of whole plant foods in more meals throughout the week. Meatless Monday is a great way to start incorporating more plants into your eating pattern and can not only encourage lower meat intake, but also increase variety of plant food intake, a key to more healthful diets.

Personal Health Benefits

Research shows that diets with higher amounts of fruits and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, type II diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, kidney disease, and dementia. Studies even show inclusion of 7-8 servings of produce each day to be associated with elevated levels of happiness and lower depression scores. On top of that, the fiber provided by fruits, vegetables and other plant foods such as whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, is associated with improved gut microbiome health. This is tied to better immunity, metabolism, antioxidant system function, mental health and in some preliminary research, even athletic performance.

Environmental Health Benefits

While the difference in direct carbon dioxide emissions between the raising of an animal for consumption versus cultivation of plant protein for consumption is small (with plant foods having lower CO2 production), there are other factors involved in animal agriculture’s impact on the health of the planet. One factor that contributes large differences, especially with raising cattle to meet demands of American diets, is deforestation. The overproduction of cattle in countries such as Brazil has led to loss of land for both plants and animals, and contributed to significant fires in the region that impact both land and carbon emissions. When considering the large scale factory farming in the United States, runoff of animal waste into streams contributes both nitrogen and phosphorus, that negatively impact our water supply and even the ecosystem in oceans. Versus animal agriculture, plant agriculture also has significantly lower water usage. 

How to Make Changes

As mentioned, you don’t need to exclude animal products from your diet all together, but by slowly adding in more plant-only meals or reducing portions of animal protein, over time you can make a significant impact on personal and environmental health. When choosing meats, buy locally from Bucks County farms in order to support sustainable agricultural practices as well as our local economy. 

It’s important that when you replace animal products with plant products, you include enough protein, iron, vitamin D, and B12 in your diet. Choose legumes and protein rich grains often, as well as adding nuts and seeds to meals and snacks. Opting for fortified soy milk if swapping out dairy milk is also beneficial.

Most importantly, take it slow. When dietary changes are made too quickly, they often aren’t enjoyable and therefore are abandoned quickly. 

Pesto Lentil Grain Bowl 


Total Time:  25 minutes

Cook Time:15-20 minutes

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Yields: 4 servings


1 Cup quick cook farro

1 Cup dry lentils (or 2 cups pre-cooked)

1 cup homemade* or store bought vegan pesto

8 cups mixed greens

2 med bell peppers, choice colors

*Vegan Pesto:

½ cup pine nuts, cashews or pistachios

2-3 oz fresh basil

1 cup fresh kale

4 large garlic cloves

¼ C olive oil

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

½ tsp salt 

2-4  tbsp water


1. Cook lentils and farro according to package instructions.

2. While lentils and farro are cooking, add all pesto ingredients to a food processor, starting with just 2 tbsp of water. Pulse for roughly 30 seconds before scraping the sides and blending an additional 10-15 seconds. If pesto is too thick, add the additional 2 tbsp of water. 

3. Remove the stalk and seeds from the bell peppers, and chopp into ¼ - ½ inch pieces. Divide mixed greens into 4 separate bowls and top each with ¼ of the chopped peppers and ¼ of the farro.

4. Stir the lentils with half of the pesto before dividing between the bowls.

5. Drizzle the remainder of the pesto over each bowl and serve.

Description: This flavorful pesto lentil grain bowl is an easy meatless Monday dinner to make after work, or prep ahead of the week for lunches. Lentils are an excellent meat replacement as they are rich in protein and a good source of both iron and folate. Farro is a higher protein grain, offering an additional 5 grams per serving to this recipe, while also providing more iron. By pairing with vitamin C rich greens and peppers, absorption of iron is enhanced by roughly four times! With a variety of textures and ease of preparation, this will become a staple meal.

Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN