Cutting meat from your diet is one of the best things you can do for your body and the environment. This is especially true of red meat, linked to poor cardiovascular health and increases cancer risk. Cattle farming for red meat is also highly polluting to the environment.
Of course, cutting out meat is also an ethical decision for many people. As a result, vegetarianism and veganism are becoming incredibly popular. Although, it should be remembered that this is a very western perspective. Meat-free diets have been prevalent worldwide for centuries, and it isn’t a new fad.
Many people stop eating meat as they don’t believe in eating the bodies of animals. This is understandable, especially when you consider how factory farming cannot be argued as an ethical way to treat animals.
But despite its popularity, there are a few things to know before you completely cut certain food groups out of your diet. Here is everything you need to know about the incredible health benefits of eating a vegetarian diet.
Types of Meat-Free Diets
You will likely have heard of vegetarian and vegan diets, but there are other subgroups within these diets. Some people do not want to fully commit to a vegan diet, so they have an altered vegetarian diet or a flexitarian diet. Some people begin with a vegetarian diet and then slowly transition into a vegan diet. Nothing is wrong with these options, as all will have a significant benefit on your health and the health of the planet. Here is a breakdown of the main meat-free diets.
A vegetarian diet cuts out meat but includes other animal products such as dairy and eggs. Depending on how strict you want to be, this can also include cutting out other processed foods that contain food products that can only be made by killing animals. This includes gelatin in gummy candy and anchovies in tomato pasta sauce. The choice of being strict is entirely yours and depends on your reasons for cutting out meat and other animal products.
Lacto-ovo vegetarian is someone who consumes a traditional vegetarian diet. This involves cutting out meat but still eating dairy and eggs. People on a Lacto-Ovo vegetarian diet generally do not eat any products which contain meat or animal byproducts that have been produced through killing animals.
A Lacto-vegetarian is someone who cuts out meat and eggs but continues to consume dairy products. Reducing meat consumption has a wide range of health benefits, but dairy isn’t great for your overall health. A lot of people who are Lacto-vegetarians follow the diet for religious reasons.
This is especially common within Hinduism. This is primarily to avoid violence toward animals. Unlike dairy products, eggs are much closer to being animals themselves. But this is only really considered for ethical dairy farming. In modern mass farming, the production of dairy products involves the deplorable treatment of cows.
Ovo-vegetarians are people who cut meat and dairy from their diet but still eat eggs. This is usually due to how cattle are treated in most current farming conditions. First, a dairy cow is forcibly impregnated as often as possible to produce milk. Then, the calves are taken away, and the milk produced for these calves is milked and used to make dairy products. Finally, once the cow can no longer become pregnant, they are slaughtered for meat.
For some people who do not want to contribute to the death of animals, this means not consuming dairy as it is produced through the suffering, exploitation, and slaughter of animals. For some vegetarians, this treatment of cows is not in line with their ethics.
Some people choose to cut out both meat and dairy for health reasons. However, some people cut out dairy due to lactose intolerance or the fat content in most dairy products. People who cut out dairy for ethical reasons do so as they do not believe that humans should be consuming the milk of other animals. This is similar to people who cut out dairy because they do not think it is essential for their health. This is understandable as milk (although it contains calcium) is not as necessary for bone health as we were once told.
A vegan diet cuts out all animal products and byproducts. They do not eat meat, eggs, dairy, or any processed products containing animal products. This seems like a restrictive diet, and it can be difficult to get fully vegan. But it is incredible for your health (and for the planet).
In fact, many athletes and bodybuilders have turned to a plant-based diet to reach peak performance. In this case, there is a debate about the difference between a “vegan” and a “plant-based” diet. Although not all vegans subscribe to this definition, veganism is generally an ethical lifestyle choice that eschews all products, both food and otherwise, that contain animal products. Being plant-based simply means eating a diet made up of plants and not eating meat, eggs, or dairy for health reasons.
A flexitarian reduces their consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy but does not cut them out completely. These are people who, for example, take part in meat-free Mondays and try to cut down on animal products. Even small changes such as being a flexitarian are significant for your overall health. Ensuring that your diet is primarily made up of fruits and vegetables (i.e., plants), then you’re on the way to having an excellent and super healthy diet.
Vegetarian Diet During Pregnancy
Eating a vegetarian or vegan diet when pregnant is a controversial topic. (Although not as contentious as feeding children a vegetarian or vegan diet.) However, the food is eaten when pregnant is incredibly important for both the mother and the baby. This means that it is essential to ensure that all food groups are covered and that all nutrients are consumed.
Some believe that this is not possible on a vegetarian or vegan diet, but that isn’t the case. It is possible to get all of your nutrients from plants, dairy, and eggs. The biggest concern for people considering a meat-free diet is where they will get their protein from. But it is essential to know that it is possible to get plenty of protein from plants and meat-free foods.
Eggs, pulses, dark green vegetables (especially kale and broccoli), and dried fruit are all great protein sources. If you consider a vegetarian diet and are already pregnant, it’s a good idea to ease into it very gently. You will still be incredibly healthy, if not more so, on a vegetarian diet, but you don’t want to make any significant changes while pregnant.
If you already consume a diet with a high meat content, it’s a good idea to ease into it to get used to the meat alternatives. When you stop relying on meat as a source of protein and iron, it can be challenging to know what to replace it with and how much you should eat. However, slowly making small changes can help you better adapt and understand portions and ingredients.
Vegetarian Diet For Children
Raising children on a vegetarian diet is another controversial topic. Some people believe that it will stunt a child’s growth and cause them to become malnourished. Some also believe that it results from parents pushing their beliefs onto their children. But as mentioned before, vegetarianism is not a new concept, and many cultures have been consuming an entirely meat-free diet for centuries.
As mentioned before, people can get all of their essential nutrients from a vegetarian or entirely plant-based diet. Meat, eggs, and dairy are all optional but not crucial parts of any person’s diet. This is especially true with the options available today. Due to the vast increase in people taking up a vegan diet, many new meat-free and plant-based foods are available. Therefore, a meat-free diet has never been easier.
This means that it is very safe and healthy to feed a child a vegetarian diet. It is also now effortless and affordable.
If you are already a parent, you might wonder how you can feed your child entirely with vegetables when getting them to eat any vegetable seems impossible. But you can still be sneaky with adding vegetables to other foods. Plus, a lot of foods are accidentally vegetarian and vegan. That said, many of those products are very processed and are only vegan because the real meat or dairy ingredients would make the product more expensive to produce.
But, if you raise your child on a vegetarian diet, they won’t know any different. Cutting out meat won’t be a huge difference, especially if your child has never had meat before. However, issues might arise later in life if your child decides that they want to try meat.
This can be difficult to handle, so it’s essential to educate your child on why you have raised them on a vegetarian diet. Whether this is for ethical, health, or environmental reasons. If they know all this, they can then decide whether or not they want to try meat. Of course, they will try it and not be bothered enough to have it again. But as we all know, the more you deny a child something, the more they will want it, and they might feel as though they are rebelling by eating meat. So giving them the option will likely make them stick to a healthier vegetarian diet.
Starting a Vegetarian Diet
Starting a vegetarian diet can be overwhelming, especially if meat has been the focal point of most of your meals since childhood. Changing your diet is a pretty big deal, so it’s understandable to feel confused and overwhelmed. You are changing a central feature of your everyday life that is all you have ever known. But, once you get started, it will be easy to continue. As with any other lifestyle change, the first step is always the hardest. Here are some tips to make the process easier.
Starting Gradually vs. Diving Straight in
Starting gradually is one of the best ways to create a vegetarian diet. If you completely cut out meat straight away, you will likely become overwhelmed and not know what to cook or how to replace it. This will make you far more likely to give up.
If you make a few switches and ease into a vegetarian diet, it will barely be a noticeable change. If you swap meat out in various stages, you will eventually get to a point where you are entirely meat-free and not even notice.
Try having one day a week when you don’t eat meat. For example, you could potentially try Meat Free Mondays, an initiative set up by Paul and Linda McCartney. It is an initiative to cut down the world’s meat consumption just a little bit. There is a lot of information, support, and recipes on their website. So you will be guided through the process.
You can, of course, just dive straight in and cut meat out entirely. However, this is only really a good option if you don’t feel the urge to eat meat. Some people don’t really enjoy the taste but continue to eat it as they don’t know any different. For others, they gradually become disgusted with eating meat and don’t want to do it anyway. If this is the case, then the temptation to eat meat isn’t a problem. If you really don’t want to eat meat anymore, you can cut it out entirely without much of a problem.
Resist Temptation With Meat Replacements
As mentioned above, it is now easier than ever to eat a meat-free diet. If you aren’t sure what to cook and feel overwhelmed with many different recipes, you can keep cooking your typical dishes and just add meat replacements. This will make the process a lot easier. Of course, the replacements might need to be cooked a little differently or have a slightly different flavor, so you need to adjust your seasoning. But, overall, this is a great way to ease into a vegetarian diet.
Adapt Your Favorite Recipes
There are lots of specifically vegetarian recipes that you can try. But when you first start a vegetarian diet, it can be difficult to essentially learn how to cook again. This means that it’s a good idea to try and adapt the recipes you already know.
As mentioned above, you can swap out meat for meat alternatives. This can be using soya mince instead of beef mince in a chili or Quorn chicken pieces in a chicken korma.
Learn How to Read Ingredients
This is a critical point to remember. When you first start cutting out meat, you will realize how many products include meat or meat byproducts. This is, of course, only the case with processed foods. Eating whole foods and cooking your meals from scratch is the best way to ensure you stick to a vegetarian diet. But this isn’t always possible. Often, you will be eating food from a packet or a jar.
Due to the increase in the number of people eating vegetarian and vegan diets, more and more brands are producing vegan food. Many well-known brands are creating vegan alternatives to their best-selling products. And some brands are even changing their ingredients to make their products vegan. In these cases, the packaging will be labeled as “vegan,” “vegetarian,” “vegan friendly,” or “suitable for vegans and vegetarians.”
This should be the first thing to look out for. If you can’t see the label but think that the product might still be vegetarian, look closely at the ingredients list. Most non-vegetarian ingredients will be obvious. But others can be byproducts of meat that have specific names. One of the most common is gelatin which is made from animal bones. Another is the red food coloring carmine, also known as “natural red 4”, “E120”, and cochineal extract made from beetles.
If you are still stuck, there are several apps that you can download to help you out. These apps scan the barcode on the packaging and tell you whether it is vegetarian or vegan.
Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
As mentioned several times throughout this article, a vegetarian diet is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself and the planet. Here are some of the main health benefits of cutting out meat and switching to a vegetarian diet.
Good for Heart Health
Regularly eating meat, especially red meats such as beef, lamb, and pork increases your risk of heart disease. However, studies have shown that eating less meat or switching to a plant-based diet lowers the risk of developing heart disease, dying of heart disease, and even “all-cause mortality.” This means that cutting out meat could help you live longer.
Lowers Blood Pressure
Studies have shown a direct association between high blood pressure and consuming red meat. High blood pressure is dangerous, and one of the best ways to lower it is to cut out red meat. High blood pressure can cause arteries to harden and thicken, which can cause heart attacks and strokes. These are incredibly severe and potentially fatal illnesses. So if you have high blood pressure or are heading toward having high blood pressure, it’s a good idea to try out a meat-free diet.
Aids Weight Loss
This isn’t always the case. For example, there are plenty of people on vegetarian and vegan diets who are overweight, as what you eat doesn’t always directly correlate with your weight.
That said, cutting out meat generally means cutting down on fat and lowering the number of calories you consume. So, generally speaking, a burger with a meat-free patty and vegan cheese will have fewer calories than a beef burger with dairy cheese. But, it’s important to remember that just because something is vegan or vegetarian doesn’t mean it’s automatically healthier (this is very easy to forget).
Ease Menopause Symptoms
Eating a vegetarian diet can help to reduce the symptoms of menopause. For example, one of the main symptoms of menopause is having regular hot flashes. A low-fat vegetarian diet can help to reduce these symptoms.
There is a perception in some cultures that people need to eat meat because strong and athletic animals such as lions and bears eat meat. This is often an argument against plant-based diets as “animals eat meat in the wild.” But, humans are definitely not comparable with lions and bears. Interestingly, cats are actually obligate carnivores, meaning they cannot eat anything other than meat.
This is not the case with humans. Although there are (dangerous and unhealthy) fad diets that recommend eating only meat, this is not suitable for human beings and will make you feel terrible. Humans get a lot of their energy from plants, primarily from carbohydrates. A lot of fad diets will also tell you to cut out carbohydrates. But this isn’t a good idea as it is where you get a lot of your energy from.
Eating meat won’t make you run as fast as a lion or make you as strong as a bear. However, you can get all the nutrients needed to make you strong and healthy from plants. As mentioned above, many athletes, especially weightlifters and bodybuilders, have started eating plant-based diets to improve their results.
Easy to Reach the Recommended Five-a-Day for Fruit and Veg
Getting five portions of different fruits and vegetables can sometimes be difficult. Especially on busy days when you’re just grabbing whatever you can. But, when it comes to eating vegetarian and plant-based meals, they will be filled with fruit and vegetables. This means that you will be able to get your recommended five-a-day without even thinking about it.
To do this, it’s best to focus on meals that use vegetables as the main focus, rather than products that attempt to replicate meat. These products will be made from vegetables and still be healthier than meat, but they won’t be as healthy as eating whole food vegetables.
Diet Rich in Vitamins and Fibre
Meat can be a good source of protein and iron, but you can get these from plenty of vegetarian and vegan foods, including many fruits and vegetables. Meat is not an essential part of the human diet, and it is perfectly healthy to cut it out.
Similarly to the above point, when you switch to a vegetarian diet, you stop focusing and relying on meat. This means that your diet will become filled with more vegetables and give you even more nutrients than you were consuming before.
Better for the Environment
Farming hasn’t always been bad for the environment. But the mass farming happening today has a massive impact on the environment. If you are concerned about climate change, one of the best things you can do is switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Mass farms are already cutting their production and reducing emissions due to people’s reduced consumption of meat and dairy.
Reversing the climate breakdown will, of course, be good for humans as it will make the planet more hospitable again. But a reduction in pollution, droughts, and the rising sea levels will also improve your personal health.
Ways to Ensure Vegetarian Diet is Well Balanced
Eat Enough of Protein
One of the most common responses to telling someone that you don’t eat meat is, “But where do you get your protein?” People who beforehand didn’t seem to care much about your protein consumption suddenly seem concerned that you might waste away.
But you can get plenty of protein from vegetables, nuts, and plant-based meat alternatives. Due to the number of people who consume protein shakes to go to the gym and people who are against vegetarianism and veganism, protein consumption has become a hot topic.
In fact, people are actually consuming far more protein than they actually need. Protein is important, but no more than carbohydrates, fats, and sugars. You need to eat a balanced diet which is perfectly possible without meat, eggs, and dairy.
Include Whole Grains
Whole grains are a great source of fiber. Carbohydrates are essential for a healthy and balanced diet, but eating more whole-grain carbohydrates than white carbohydrates is best. This is because they contain more fiber and are more filling.
Although you will eventually understand portions, it can sometimes be challenging to become full with just vegetables. Especially when you are used to the meat filling you up. One way to counter this is to eat more whole grain foods to keep you fuller for longer. This is because they expel energy more slowly, keeping you going for longer.
Eat Five Portions of Fruit and Vegetables
As mentioned in the previous section, eating your recommended portions of fruit and vegetables every day can be difficult. This is especially true if you have a busy life or try to make sure that your children also eat enough fruit and vegetables. Eating a vegetarian diet will help you to do this naturally. But it is still easy to reach for processed foods that aren’t great for you. Just because something is vegetarian or vegan doesn’t mean it is healthy.
Try to choose meals that focus on vegetables and eat fruit as a snack. It can be easy to just reach for meat-free versions of meals that heavily emphasize the meat. This is an excellent way to ease into a vegetarian diet. But, this can mean that you’re not getting all of the benefits of a vegetarian diet.
Include Vitamin and Mineral Rich Foods
Many people rely on meat for their mineral intake, more specifically iron and vitamin B12, but this isn’t necessary. Iron is found in many different vegetables, the best of which is spinach. Kale is also a great source of iron. If you are concerned, you can always take iron supplements, but this probably won’t be necessary if you eat iron-rich vegetables unless you already have an iron deficiency.
Vitamin B12 is found in lots of vegetarian foods. This includes milk and eggs but is not found in many plant-based foods. This means it is good to take vitamin B12 supplements; however, you can also eat fortified foods. Many vegan alternatives have added B12, so you won’t have trouble getting enough.
As mentioned above, cutting out meat is one of the best ways to improve your personal health and the health of the planet. It is also a change that many people make for ethical reasons, so you will also be positively impacting the health and welfare of a huge number of animals.
Across the world, 19 billion chickens, 1.5 billion cows, 1 billion sheep, and 1 billion pigs are slaughtered every year for human consumption. This is putting a massive strain on the natural world as meat has become a far too important part of our diets.
Many people are taught that meat should be the main ingredient and focus of every meal. But this isn’t healthy, nor is it an exciting way to cook. Cutting out meat will save countless animals every year, reduce carbon emissions, and improve your own personal health.
With so many different meat-free alternatives available, it has never been easier to go vegetarian. And you definitely won’t regret it.