Vegetarianism, a diet void of all meat, poultry and fish products, is becoming increasingly popular in mainstream culture.
There are a number of reasons why 25% of the world’s population have chosen to embrace a meat free lifestyle. For one, producing vegetarian food is more ecologically sustainable than a carnivorous diet, the farm-to-plate process totalling 30% of all global greenhouse emissions. People also stop eating meat for economical, ethical and religious reasons.
As a nutritional therapist, I obviously also concern myself with the health implications of a meat-free diet. In this article, I shall summarise the health benefits of switching to vegetarianism, but also the possible risks associated with going meat free.
Many links have been found between a vegetarian diet and a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies have found that the more meat people consume, the higher their risk of type-2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. This is because animal based foods tend to be higher in saturated fats and cholesterol, than plant-based foods. Once in your bloodstream, these fats can contribute to the build-up of plaque, such is the case with atherosclerosis (the hardening of the arteries).
In contrast, eating more fruits and vegetables, as with a vegetarian diet, means a higher intake of antioxidants, vitamins, such as C and E, and minerals, like magnesium and potassium. There is also a substantial increase in the intake of fiber. This is very beneficial, as it is a deficiency I often see in a lot of my clients.
Another advantage of sticking to a vegetarian diet is the positive effect it has on our figure. A Washington DC study found that following a vegetarian diet is actually twice as effective as a carnivorous one when it comes to losing weight, providing you make healthy choices.
Vegetarians are typically leaner as a result of a diet that is comprised of more filling foods in the form of grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Researchers also found that vegetarian alternatives have the effect of boosting an individual’s metabolism, a key factor in weight loss.
Whilst this argument is still being debated, it is believed that traces of the antibiotics and steroids that are fed to livestock in order to promote growth are present in the food that we eat. For obvious reasons, these are detrimental to human health, as well as promoting antibiotic resistance. The same goes for micro-plastics which have been found in the meat of fish – we vicariously intake the micro-plastics ingested by fish due to increased ocean pollution.
Food-borne illnesses, bacteria and chemical toxins are generally more common in commercial meat, poultry, and seafood when compared with plant foods, especially organic fruits and vegetables.
Whilst the benefits of a plant-based diet are undeniable, becoming a vegetarian is not a guarantee of good health or a healthy diet. Meat-based or not, everyone is at risk of poor health if they consume too many calories, unhealthy refined carbohydrates, such as pizza and pasta, whole milk dairy products, and junk foods. If you’re looking to vegetarianism to maintain a healthier lifestyle, you still have to make healthy choices.
Processed Meat Alternatives
I often find that new vegetarians tend to replace their usual meat intake with fake meat alternatives. With advances in food technology these imitation meats are uncannily realistic in texture and taste, and have become incredibly popular! However, don’t be fooled. They are still a processed, industrial food that contains high levels of additives and preservatives in order to achieve specific flavours. The key is to eat such alternatives mindfully; you don’t need to avoid them completely, just eat them occasionally.
One of the most prominent risks associated with cutting out meat from ones diet is not receiving enough of the essential nutrients required to carry out normal bodily functions. It is incredibly common for vegetarians to be lacking in protein, iron and B12, since these are most conveniently and efficiently sourced from meat. However, choice foods incorporated into a vegetarian diet will eliminate the risk of deficiencies.
Vegetarian Sources of Protein: eggs, legumes, whole grains, avocado, nuts and seeds.
Vegetarian Sources of Iron: Tofu, chickpeas, lentils, leafy greens such as kale, parsley and dried apricots and figs.
Vegetarian Sources of B12: Animal proteins such as eggs and cheese.
Nutritional Therapy Manchester
Whatever your ethical or religious values, everyone should make a concerted effort to eat less meat in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle. You don’t necessarily have to cut it out entirely to feel the benefits; small reductions mean healthy changes both to yourself and the environment. So, why not try ‘Meatless Mondays’ as a hassle-free way of easing in to reducing your meat intake. If you want to discuss further the nutritional value of switching to vegetarianism, or advice on how to incorporate healthy vegetarian options in your day to day diet, get in touch today for a free 30 minute discovery call.
See below for a couple of my healthy and delicious vegetarian recipes which will introduce some diversity into your diet!