I've always been a meat and potatoes guy. Growing up, I never ate salads or vegetables with my meals. I just ate burgers, tacos and roast, always with a side of mashed potatoes, French fries or mac and cheese.
And I kept doing that as an adult -- until I was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 35.
My doctors and nutritionist told me to remove red meat from my diet, and I have, though for someone who grew up eating it two to three times a day, that was a challenge.
A recent major medical study from the Harvard School of Public Health supports why my doctors insisted I give up red meat. In the study, eating red meat appeared to increase the risk of premature death significantly. And these findings are in addition to physicians' research published late last year that tied red meat to aggressive prostate cancer.
Also consider this: "More than 75% of the $2.6 trillion in annual US health care costs are from chronic diseases. Eating less red meat is likely to reduce morbidity from these illnesses, thereby reducing health care costs," writes Dean Ornish in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
All this is why I'm encouraging all men to go at least one day per week without eating any meat, and to embrace Meatless Monday.
According to MeatlessMonday.com, going meatless once a week may reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. "Further, if you do eat meat on other days, we strongly recommend grass-fed, hormone-free, locally-raised options whenever possible."
My cancer woke me up. I don't want you to develop prostate cancer or any other cancer or chronic health conditions before you decide to make a change. We have to be proactive in our health. The key is prevention.
Like its name, Meatless Monday is simple. Each Monday, go without meat.
Need to know more? Know this: Former ad man turned health advocate Sid Lerner, who saw the prevalence of preventable illnesses associated with excessive meat consumption, introduced Meatless Monday as a public health awareness campaign in 2003. The initiative was backed by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's Center for a Livable Future and endorsed by 30 schools of public health.
Concerned about lack of protein? No worries. There are many alternatives like tempeh, tofu, quinoa, lentils, egg whites, almond butter, nuts, soy, seeds and beans, including small red beans, red kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, navy beans and black-eyed peas.
Meatless Monday is part of The Monday Campaigns, "a national movement backed by leading public health schools that dedicates the first day of every week to health. Every Monday, individuals and organizations join together to commit to healthy behaviors that help end chronic preventable diseases," according to The Monday Campaigns' website.
Small changes in life can make a big difference. I want you and your loved ones to do everything you can to avoid getting cancer and other chronic health conditions like heart disease.
Meatless Monday is a step toward developing better habits. You can do it -- and you should feel better.
I'm not a vegan. I'm not a vegetarian. Yes, I no longer eat red meat, but going just one day per week without any meat has made me discover the benefits of eating organic fruits and vegetables.
And you're never too young to start Meatless Monday. "The younger that people can start to adopt healthier lifestyles, the better the long-term health benefits. In fact, it is much easier to make the changes at a younger age than after decades of living with a bad habit," says Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., Director of Integrative Medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
As Dr. Cohen notes, the American Cancer Society and American Institute for Cancer Research recommend a plant-based diet and reducing processed meat and red meat for cancer prevention -- and for cancer survivors.
"Plant-based foods are rich in phytochemicals, bioflavonoids and other substances that are protective. In other words, what we include in our diet is as important as what we exclude, so substituting healthier foods for red meat provides a double benefit to our health," writes Dean Ornish, M.D., in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
As the founder of Blue Cure, a prostate cancer nonprofit, I can tell you there are lots of awareness campaigns when it comes to screenings. But we must have more education on preventative dietary and lifestyle habits known to aid in preventing cancers.
And one way to start is Meatless Monday.
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