Giada DeLaurentiis recently predicted that vegetarianism will be a 2012 food trend. Her Twitter followers wanted to see more vegetarian dishes featured on her show, Giada at Home, and she delivered with some inventive recipes. (I personally tried the lentil and goat cheese rolls and loved them.) This circumstance does reveal that society is starting to become more mindful about how much meat it eats, which is a step in the right direction.

My only qualm with the media labeling it a trend is that it implies vegetarianism is temporary, merely a passing fad. It's the same reason the word diet is problematic because it promotes a quick fix instead of what healthy eating really is: a lifestyle.

Mindfully choosing what to eat and striving to support your health is not a short-term experiment. And you'll find that as you eliminate processed food, excess sugar (such as soft drinks), and even a bit of meat, your body will feel better and you'll even be helping the planet, too. Whether you're a committed vegetarian already or simply striving for Meatless Monday, there are plenty of reasons to consider lowering your animal protein intake.

Meatless Monday lays out the benefits of eating a little less meat:

Health Benefits

  • LIMIT CANCER RISK: Hundreds of studies suggest that diets high in fruits and vegetables may reduce cancer risk. Both red and processed meat consumption are associated with colon cancer.

  • REDUCE HEART DISEASE: Recent data from a Harvard University study found that replacing saturated fat-rich foods (for example, meat and full fat dairy) with foods that are rich in polyunsaturated fat (for example, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds) reduces the risk of heart disease by 19%

  • FIGHT DIABETES: Research suggests that higher consumption of red and processed meat increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

  • CURB OBESITY: People on low-meat or vegetarian diets have significantly lower body weights and body mass indices. A recent study from Imperial College London also found that reducing overall meat consumption can prevent long-term weight gain.

  • LIVE LONGER: Red and processed meat consumption is associated with modest increases in total mortality, cancer mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality.

  • IMPROVE YOUR DIET. Consuming beans or peas results in higher intakes of fiber, protein, folate, zinc, iron and magnesium with lower intakes of saturated fat and total fat.

Environmental Benefits

  • REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide . . . far more than transportation. And annual worldwide demand for meat continues to grow. Reining in meat consumption once a week can help slow this trend.

  • MINIMIZE WATER USAGE. The water needs of livestock are tremendous, far above those of vegetables or grains. An estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef. Soy tofu produced in California requires 220 gallons of water per pound.

  • HELP REDUCE FOSSIL FUEL DEPENDENCE. On average, about 40 calories of fossil fuel energy go into every calorie of feed lot beef in the U.S. Compare this to the 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy needed to produce one calorie of plant-based protein. Moderating meat consumption is a great way to cut fossil fuel demand.

Now you might be asking yourself what to cook. Check out the resources below for tips on vegetarian eating and cooking:

How to be a healthy vegetarian | Whole Living

Vegetarian Recipes | 101 Cookbooks

Vegetarian Recipes | Food Network