DID YOU KNOW that a 2016 review of 108 scientific studies on vegetarian and vegan diets, found that vegetarians are around 25% less likely to develop heart disease and 8% less likely to develop cancer than meat eaters!
There isn’t enough data on the elusive and rare vegans to say for sure but their results look similar to the veggies.
Before you run to your nearest Tofurky stockist (that’s turkey made from tofu – yes that’s a thing), you should consider that vegetarians and vegans TYPICALLY come from a background of higher income and education status. We also know very well that sadly, those with higher incomes and education levels already enjoy a much lower risk of developing heart disease and cancer…so, is it the diet or the whole lifestyle associated with being richer and better educated? Difficult to say.
That said, vegetarianism is becoming much more popular and it might not only be the health benefits that people are hoping to cash in on by turning veggie, the environmental impact of meat production is also a massive consideration.
As I have no expertise on the environment, I have refrained from pretending to know what I am talking about (take note backstreet dietitians) and instead recruited Environmental Expert Dom Clarke to explain:
“Meat production is a MAJOR stressor on our planets resources and is one of the largest producers of greenhouse gasses in existence, here in the UK it is responsible for approximately 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
If you’re in any doubt about the less than complimentary carbon foodprint of meat, take a single 200g beef steak for example. To get to your plate that steak has taken the equivalent carbon emissions (Kg CO2) of driving an average car 10 miles, initially this seems a small amount, however eaten 3 times a week for 52 weeks of the year, it has the comparable carbon emissions of driving from London to Sicily!
When we consider all the other meat and meat products in our diets it is no wonder this is adding up to a problem of planetary proportions.”
So then it makes sense that to become more green… we should be eating more greens!
The truth is, humans are designed to be omnivores which basically means that we can eat whatever we like: meat; fish; vegetables; dairy; pulses and grains (if they’re cooked); (most) berries; ummm you get the picture.
Remember that fact folks “HUMANS ARE OMNIVORES!” because there are many people out there who will tell you that humans are not designed to eat meat because apparently we don’t have the right teeth (which we do) and our bowels are too long (ummmm not true). The people who tell you that humans are not designed to eat meat are probably trying to flog you tofu jerky (like beef jerky but made from tofu – yes that’s also a thing) or something similar, so be careful of that.
The evidence from fossils, cave dwellings etc. shows us that humans have always eaten meat and we know that we CAN because…well, we survived being cave men and stuff.
The question is, in a world where there are multiple protein sources and an abundance of fruit and vegetables all year round…SHOULD we, ethically speaking, be taking the life of another animal to feed ourselves while damaging the planet and (maybe) affecting our health? Probably not…
The trouble is, meat is bloody delicious! Sorry to swear (Mum), but it is!
On a nutritional level, there are some key nutrients that we get from meat, that are much harder to get from just plant and dairy foods (including Tofurky). Iron is the classic example. Iron from animal sources is really easily absorbed into our bloodstream, while iron from plant sources is much more difficult to absorb and should be taken with vitamin C to help it to be absorbed.
Additionally, vitamins like vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and zinc are much scarcer in vegetarian diets and scarcer still in vegan diets. Most vegetarians and vegans rely on vitamin and mineral supplementation and eating fortified breakfast cereals and something called ‘Nutritional Yeast’ which is sometimes used as a (foul) cheese flavouring (but still has to be fortified with vitamin B12) to meet their nutritional needs.
The other potential issue with vegetarian and vegan diets is getting all the different types of proteins (or amino acids) that you need to meet your constantly changing requirements. The proteins that we eat are made up from building blocks called amino acids. Our body breaks down the proteins into amino acids and then reconstructs them to whatever protein we might need at that particular time…like the protein to heal up a scab or get dem’ booty gains.
There are some amino acids that are ESSENTIAL meaning that we can’t produce them from other amino acids so we have to take them in from our diet. Guess what? You can get enough for the whole day from a few mouthfuls of chicken but you need to carefully combine grains and pulses everyday as a vegan to get what your body needs.
These nutritional considerations are by no means impossible to overcome BUT I would personally find it hard to make sure my diet was nutritional adequate on a vegetarian or vegan diet and I am quite knowledgable in the area of food and nutrition…
Also, I was vegetarian for quite a long time as a teenager and I mostly ate carbs and cheese and guess what…I was a bit chubby.
SO what is the solution I hear you cry?!
Well here’s my master plan. Become a ‘Part-time Vegetarian’!
You may have heard of ‘Meat Free Monday’. That is a great start! If the whole world stopped eating meat on Mondays we would cut down the greenhouse gasses produced by the meat industry by 14% (whhhaaaaat!?) and as an added bonus, our friends in the study mentioned earlier recon we could reduce our risk of heart disease by 3.5% AND our risk of cancer by 1%!
So, lets extrapolate this a little: say you can’t imagine going a day without meat? What if you tried only having meat for ONE meal per day instead of two (or three, but if you’re having meat three times a day you REALLY need to cut down).
What if you tried having a vegetarian meal in the evening three days per week or BEING a vegetarian three days per week?
What if you only ate meat at the weekend or when you go out for dinner?
‘Apart from the potential health benefits of becoming a part-timer, you may inadvertently become a full time environmentalist! Now I’m not saying you’ll earn Al Gore enviro-activist status by choosing to reduce meats in your diet, however you could drastically reduce your carbon foodprint and aid the climate change mitigation effort. Studies have found high meat diets (more than 100 grams per day or one small steak) produce 7.19kg CO2e per day compared to a low meat diet (less than 50 grams per day or a couple of slices of bacon) producing 4.67kg CO2e per day. So without chaining yourself to a single tree, and having not overly committed to a “greener” lifestyle the planet is better off when you’re eating less meat.”
Studies have also shown that eating fish but NOT meat (called a Pescatarian) is even healthier than being a vegetarian, and Dom says that fish has a much lower carbon foodprint compared to meat eating so you can eat (sustainable and ethically sourced) fish on your meat free days if ya’ like. That still counts.
Even the smallest change could make a massive difference and the absolute truth is, the nutritional considerations mentioned above could easily be satisfied by eating meat once or twice per week. We need nowhere near the amount of meat we eat currently and if you took an honest look at it…do you really want two or three animals to die per week just so you can have a chicken and bacon sandwich everyday?
NOW some of the problems you might find with being a ‘Part-time Vegetarian’ include: snobbery from the often militant (and sometimes angry) vegetarian and vegan community both in real life and on-line. Your friends may laugh at you for eating steak in a restaurant but eating lentil burgers at home. Your co-workers might have a good ROFL when you declare that you’re vegetarian on a Monday but eat a sausage sandwich on a Tuesday and your partner might think you’re a ‘commitment-phobe’…but FEAR NOT!
Be a proud Part-time Vegetarian (cue national anthem style music). You’re still doing your body and the planet a big favour. Let’s stand united as a moderate community who care enough to change (but still bloody love meat) and if anyone picks a fight with you, tell them that THE TERMINATOR (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a Part-time vegetarian and if that doesn’t shut the haters up they need to be unfriended in life AND on Facebook.