Tempted to go veggie? Nutritionist Louise Pyne tells us why a meat-free diet could offer big health pay offs
If you’ve been toying with the idea of ditching meat for a plantbased diet, you’re not alone. According to new research, more than a quarter of all evening meals in the UK now contain no meat, while sales of vegetables including spinach and aubergine are also on the up compared to 12 months ago. One of the main reasons that we’re making the switch is to help give health a big boost. A 10-year study of more than 16,000 people found that those following a plant-based diet were 43 percent less likely to become obese compared to those who ate meat. Furthermore, separate studies show that vegetarians suffer a lower incidence of chronic disease, such as cardiovascular problems, some diet-related cancers and diabetes type two, than their meat-eating counterparts. Interested? Read on to find out how you can introduce vegetarianism into your life.
Depending on your current eating habits, your body may need time to adjust to a completely meat-free diet so, rather than jumping into the deep end, you might want to ease your way into a plant-based diet. You could start by adding more vegetarian foods onto your plate and limiting meat-based meals to a couple of times a week. And, before you make the shift, find out whether you’ll need to take extra supplements, as certain nutrients, such as iron and vitamin B12, can be harder to obtain from a strictly vegetarian diet. It’s worth getting your nutrient levels checked with a registered nutritionist or ask your GP for advice on whether supplements might be required. Along with vitamins and minerals, you’ll need to increase the amount of plant protein you’re eating. This macronutrient supports cell growth and repair, keeps you feeling full and is vital if you’re exercising because it helps keep muscles strong. Good plant sources include legumes such as lentils and chickpeas, quinoa, pea protein and eggs. Try to base your plate around protein, good fats (think: healthy oils, such as olive oil, nuts and seeds) and lots of vegetables with small amounts of complex carbs, such as brown rice or wholegrain pasta. The good news is that going veggie doesn’t have to mean a restrictive eating plan, despite what you may think. Instead, it’s one that can open you up to a whole new world of culinary experimentation. Arm yourself with cookery books – there are so many meat-free ones available nowadays – or find inspiration for veggie meals on Instagram or Pinterest to keep variety in your diet. Seitan stir-fry anyone?
Five reasons to make plant foods the star of the show
The secret to longevity could well be sitting in your fridge. Research published in the research journal JAMA shows that vegetarians who eat a diet packed with essential nutrients like fibre, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals live longer when compared to meat-eaters.
Can’t seem to keep pesky cravings in check? Switching to a plant-based diet that packs in fibre helps you feel fuller so that you’re less likely to reach for sweet treats. Good sources to help you reach the recommended 30g quota include veggies such as sweet potato and parsnips, oats and brown rice.
A healthy digestive system equals a healthy body. While fatty foods like burgers and fry ups can be tough to digest, triggering common complaints like heartburn and stomach pain, chowing down on fermented plant-based foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut can help to keep your gut in tip-top shape due to the high levels of probiotics they contain.
Packing more veggies and less meat into your diet is also linked to a slimmer figure. Research by Stanford University in the US found that weight loss was associated with the amount and quality of food, and not genetics. The results showed that those who ate the most vegetables and consumed the fewest processed products lost the most weight.
What you eat has a huge affect on your appearance, and trans fats from processed meat products could be the cause of bad skin and premature wrinkles. It’s thought that inflammatory foods like deli meats and burgers can trigger DNA and collagen-damaging oxidative stress, making you look older.
Smart ways to get the most out of plant-based eating
Iron is often associated with red meat but, according to the Vegetarian Society, you don’t have to eat steak to get your iron fix. In fact, they maintain that meat-eaters get 75 percent of this important nutrient from veggie sources. To make sure you get all the iron you need, fill up on dark green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, nuts and seeds and sprouted beans and seeds. Vitamin C helps your body to absorb iron more effectively, so eat more vitamin C sources, such as carrots, tomatoes and butternut squash, with an iron-rich meal.
This nutrient is mainly found in meat but vegetarians can get their fill by eating eggs and dairy products, as well as fortified products. Essential for optimum health, vitamin B12 helps to keep red blood cells healthy, protects the nervous system and boosts energy levels.
Fats help you absorb certain vitamins like vitamins A, D, E and K. They also help to regulate cholesterol levels and keep cells healthy. Good source include nuts, seeds, olive oil and flaxseed.