I am not a vegetarian myself but have been thinking about it. I'm not particularly fussed by meat any more, it just doesn't float my boat. I think if I wasn't married to a hardcore meat eater (as in he thinks he'll fade away without it), I would make the transition pretty easily.
I love my veggies n beans n things which always helps. I enjoy fish and eggs so would keep those BUT if I did go veggie, will I be missing out on anything important other than bacon sandwiches?
Are there any nutritional concerns? Here are my thoughts on being meat free....
There are some health benefits to being meat free, but are vegetarian and vegan diets any healthier than diets that include meat?
Studies have shown that vegetarians and vegans have lower mortality rates than meat eaters, particularly from heart disease. But as you might have already guessed, being a vegetarian or vegan does not automatically make you healthier.
Despite the boom of processed veggie and vegan options at your local supermarkets and eateries, life may be easier but not necessarily healthier.
Vegetarians and vegans do tend to be leaner however, have lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure but what we don’t know is this:
- Are vegetarians or vegans healthier because they don’t eat meat?
- Or is it because they but eat more fruit and vegetables?
- And / or is it because they generally have healthier attitudes so exercise more and smoke or drink less?
There have been many elite and Olympic athletes who have proven they can ‘run on beans‘ – the likes of Ed Moses, Martina Navratolova and Carl Lewis (or was he tested positive for drugs?)
Following a meat free diet can have many benefits, PROVIDING you don't live on Quorn nuggets and Linda McCartney meat free sosig rolls.
I’ve met many young adults deciding to become vegan or vegetarian (for important personal reasons) but they don’t even like vegetables, or beans or whole grain foods! This is potentially quite a precarious path to take as a strict vegetarian or vegan diet can make you susceptible to selected nutrient deficiencies.
There are some nutrients that are harder to get from a vegetarian or vegan diet, either because plants foods contain smaller quantities than animal products or because they are not very well absorbed by the body. Here's the lo-down on what could be missing from a vegetarian and vegan diet, if you go into it blind.
As long as a varied diet is consumed, vegetarian and vegan diets can provide all the nutrients needed to be healthy. You may need to look out for more fortified foods and vegans may need a vitamin B12 supplement. But before I get onto these nutrients, let me say a little about protein………………
Protein is made up of amino acids. These are the building blocks of protein and to ensure we can make all the protein the body needs, it is important to eat a variety of different proteins. Our body has the ability to make some of these amino acids ourselves, but some (9 of them) we cannot make, so must obtain them from foods; we call these essential amino acids.
Protein from animal sources – meat and eggs for example, tend to contain more of the 9 essential amino acids. Animal protein is therefore considered a ‘better quality’ or more complete protein.
Protein from plant sources is often missing one or more of these essential amino acids and so it can be viewed as ‘lower quality’ or less complete protein.
Quinoa, chia seeds and soya are probably the most complete plant-based protein foods in our diet but it will of course depend on how much you have; 1 serving (1tbs) of chia seeds only provides 3g protein.
Studies suggest that most vegans and vegetarians get enough protein from their diets as long as they eat a variety of protein rich foods (see below), but in my practice over half are not meeting their requirements.
- Soya / Tofu
- All kinds of beans – edamame, mung, kidney, black-eyed beans, pinto beans, black, adzuki etc
- Nuts including nut butters (almond or peanut)
- Whole grains – cereals, brown rice, whole grain pasta
- Microprotein (quorn) This is a useful ingredient for vegetarians (it is not suitable for vegans as it contains egg) as it has a similar texture to meat and therefore can be a good substitute
By combining different types of plant protein over the course of a day you can ensure you get all the amino acids your body needs. Remember, it’s about VARIETY.
- Beans on toast
- Breakfast cereal with milk
- Rice with lentil dhal
- Vegetable soup with lentils or barley and bread
- Bean chilli with rice or tortillas
- Rye crackers and cheese
- Couscous with chickpeas
- Houmous and pitta bread
Vegans and vegetarians that do not consume dairy products may also need to make sure they are getting enough calcium.
If you don’t have milk and dairy products, choose soya products and other dairy alternatives such as nut and rice milks which are fortified with added vitamins and minerals. It's good to note here that non-dairy alternatives are typically very low in protein and Iodine, that we typically get from dairy.
Non-dairy sources of calcium include:
- Soya milk (look for fortified versions with added calcium
- Other dairy milk alternatives such as nut (almond), rice and oat drinks
- Fortified bread
- Dried fruit – figs, dates, apricots & prunes
- Dark green leafy vegetables – broccoli, spinach, kale
- Lentils (all types)
- Beans (all types)
- Sesame seeds
Cheese is often a popular choice for people following vegetarian diets, but while it is a good source of calcium (and protein) some varieties can be high in saturates and salt, so be mindful how much you have.
Many people in the UK, especially women and adolescent girls, have low intakes of iron. We all need to make sure we get enough iron, which is important for transporting oxygen around the body, for brain function and the immune system. If you are vegan or vegetarian however, you need to be especially careful, as the iron found in plant foods is less readily absorbed than that from animal products.
Good sources of iron suitable for vegetarians. / vegans include:
- Pulses such as beans, peas and lentils
- Green vegetables such as watercress, spinach and kale
- Wholemeal or brown bread
- Some fortified breakfast cereals
- Dried fruits
- Nuts and sesame seeds
Vitamin C is great at helping to boost iron absorption. So add some fruit or vegetables (or a small glass of fruit juice) with your meal to increase the amount of iron you get from food.
On the other hand, tea and coffee make the absorption of iron harder because they contain compounds called polyphenols. These can bind with the iron making it harder for the body to absorb it. If you have anaemia, avoid drinking tea and coffee at the same time you are eating – wait around 30 minutes between eating and drinking these.
Selenium is needed for a healthy immune system and to protect the cells of the body. Many people in the UK don’t get enough selenium from the diet. Meat, fish, eggs and nuts are the best sources of selenium, so if you’re a strict vegetarian or vegan, it’s important to make sure you’re eating enough nuts.
Brazil nuts, cashew nuts and pecans are all sources of selenium, so try to include a small handful of these when you can. You could add some to your breakfast, smoothies, bakes, curries and stir-fries.
Vitamin B12 is needed for healthy blood and for the nervous system and the immune system. It also helps release energy from the food we eat. If you eat dairy foods then you should be able to get enough vitamin B12 from your diet.
However, because vitamin B12 is generally not found in plant foods, vegans might not get enough of this vitamin.
Vegan sources of vitamin B12 include
- Some nutritional yeast products
- Some fortified breakfast cereals
You might find it would be advisable to think about taking a vitamin B12 supplement . If you do, make sure you follow the instructions on the packaging and don’t take more than the recommended amount as this can be harmful.
Omega-3 fatty acids
It is recommended that we eat 2-3 portions of oily fish per week. This is because the omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish may help reduce the risk of heart disease. There are also (mixed) claims that omega 3's can also help in the prevention of some cancers, alzheimers, depression, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, ADHD and macular degeneration.
If you are vegan or vegetarian and do not eat fish, try to include other sources of omega-3 in your diet.
Good vegetarian and vegan sources of omega-3 include:
- Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
- Rapeseed oil
- Soya oil and soya-based foods, such as tofu
- Walnuts and walnut oil, pumpkin seeds
- Eggs (especially omega 3 fortified eggs, or ‘happy’ eggs)
You can get vegan friendly supplements too.
Well that was the long answer to my question. Can we be fuelled by veggies? YES!
If you'd like to know more about transitioning to a vegetarian or vegan diet, check out these reliable sites:
There are lots of recipes to but if you're not ready for that, begin with 1-2 meat free dinners a week. You might just be helping to save the environment at the same time. Meatfreemonday would be a good start.