Meat Free Mondays… Or More Days!
I’m sure most people would agree that now more than ever before we’re bombarded with confusing and conflicting nutrition messages. Far too often a new food trend or fad diet is splashed across the media, and more often than not there is little to no science to back up the many health claims it promises. Thankfully there is one thing most health professionals agree on and that is much of the Western World needs to increase their intake of plant foods and decrease their consumption of red and processed meat.
So what does the research say about plant based diets?
For those who haven’t heard of Blue Zones, these are areas where more people enjoy extraordinarily long, healthy lives than anywhere else in the world. There are several lifestyle behaviours that these communities have in common and at the top of that list is their style of eating. They consume a diet made up of mainly:
- fruit and veg
- legumes: beans, lentils, chickpeas
- nuts and seeds and
- whole grains
When it comes to meat:
- they consume oily fish, but for the most part eat meat sparingly (especially red meat)
What does it mean to be a vegetarian?
A vegetarian diet is one based on plant foods. Some vegetarians consume animal products (not meat, but products produced by animals) and others don’t.
There are three different types of vegetarian diets:
- Vegan – only plant foods are consumed
- Lacto vegetarian – plant foods and dairy foods are consumed
- Ovo lacto vegetarian – plants foods, dairy foods and eggs are consumed
If you decide to significantly reduce or remove meat products from your diet, is important to be aware of the potential macro and micronutrient deficiencies.
Plant based diets may be lacking in iron, zinc, vitamin B12 (especially in vegan diets) and calcium (especially in vegan diets).
Iron: sources include legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, dark green leafy vegetables and whole grains (especially amaranth and quinoa).
- Tip - to increase the absorption of the type of iron found in plant foods, consume a vitamin C rich food with it e.g. berries, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, red capsicum, tomatoes or broccoli.
- Tip - Avoid drinking tea at meal times as the phytates in tea can inhibit iron absorption.
B12: This vitamin is only found naturally in animal products.
- Vegetarians should consume adequate dairy products to acquire vitamin B12.
- Vegans will need to ensure they either consume foods fortified with vitamin B12 (for example cereals) or take a vitamin B12 supplement. Your doctor will recommend a supplement if your blood test reveals a B12 deficiency.
Calcium: If not consuming dairy, some good plant sources of calcium include calcium-fortified soy products, hard tofu, almonds, sesame seed paste and green leafy vegetables such as kale and asian greens (e.g. bok choy, Chinese broccoli).
Omega 3: sources include linseeds, flaxseeds and chia seeds (and their oils), walnuts, soy products and omega-3 fortified foods such as some breads.
- Tip - Vegetarians and vegans should also try to use less omega-6 rich oils (sunflower, safflower, sesame) and replace these with soybean, canola and olive oil.
Zinc: Sources include legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grain breads and cereals.
So if your diet is meat heavy and you want to consume more plant foods, a few tips are:
- Swap red meat for white, most of us only need 2-3 serves of red meat each week
- Make one day a week (or more if you like!) a meat free day
- Experiment with vegetarian protein sources like tofu, legumes, quinoa and veg patties, you might find a new food you love
- Limit processed meat as much as possible (bacon, salami, sausages) as these have been categorised a carcinogens / cancer forming products
Introduce Meat Free Mondays to your household and share your favourite meat free recipe with us in the forum!
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