There are various movements encouraging us to eat less meat for health and environmental reasons but a long-term vegetarian or vegan diet is very different. We’ve taken a look at the benefits of dabbling with meat-free meals and what you need to know if you decide to make the change permanently.
Firstly, research tells us people who do not eat meat – vegetarians or vegans – “generally eat fewer calories and less fat, weigh less, and have a lower risk of heart disease than non-vegetarians do”.
The Mayo Clinic also says “just eating less meat has a protective effect” on our bodies.
Let us introduce you to the term “flexitarian”
“The term ‘flexitarian’ has been coined to describe someone who eats mostly plant-based foods, but occasionally eats meat, poultry and fish,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
“That kind of healthy eating is the central theme of the Mediterranean diet — which limits red meat and emphasises fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and healthy fats — and has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions.”
Medibank has listed off some of the health benefits of reducing the amount of meat in your diet:
- Weight loss
- Better heart health
- Reduced diabetes risk
- Reduced risk of some cancers.
For some perspective, the average Australian diet includes about 115 kilograms of meat per year – and it really doesn’t need to. So, if cutting back has some health (and financial) benefits, maybe it’s time to consider it.
Learning to cook wholesome and satisfying meals for yourself and your family without meat might seem daunting. It doesn’t have to be. The key is to replace the meat component with something that is high in protein so you will feel full.
The Mayo Clinic says a meal should contain up to 85 grams of protein. It should take up no more than a quarter of your plate. Actually visualise what that looks like. Then make sure vegetables and fruits cover half your plate and whole grains make up the rest.
“It is important that animal foods taken from the diet are replaced with other foods that provide similar nutrients,” according to the Dieticians Association of Australia [LINK: http://daa.asn.au/for-the-public/smart-eating-for-you/nutrition-a-z/vegetarian-diets/].
Each day try to include:
- Eggs, dried beans, lentils, nuts or seeds
- High-fibre breads and cereals
- Dairy foods or calcium enriched soy foods
- A wide variety of fruits and vegetables
- Small amounts of unsaturated fats
- Foods fortified with vitamin B12 if you’re excluding dairy and eggs
- Flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts and omega-3 fortified foods such as some types of bread.
Being a full-time vegetarian takes some planning
With no meat in your diet, you need to be making a conscious effort to eat high-protein and nutrient rich foods.
The Dieticians Association of Australia warns that without careful planning a vegetarian may be lacking in:
- Iron (develop Anaemia)
- Vitamin B12 (especially vegan diets)
- Calcium (especially vegan diets)
“A vegetarian diet can be healthy as many plant foods are low in saturated fat and high in dietary fibre,” the association said.
“However, a healthy vegetarian diet requires careful planning to make sure it is well balanced and includes a wide variety of foods to meet nutritional needs.