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A veggie or meat diet – which one is better for your health and wellbeing?
This week (May18th to 24th) It is National Vegetarian Week, and the 2015 theme is all about ‘Sharing’. So with that in mind I thought I’d share my views and take a closer look at the vegetarian diet versus a meat diet
Meat and two veg was and for many still is the staple of the British diet.
But things are changing with more exotic imported foods, British growers delivering a wider range of fruit and veg, ethical and welfare issue and food crisis like the horse meat scandal, more people are considering a plant based diet
To help you make an informed choice you will need to consider:
Vitamin B12: This is needed for the formation of red blood cells and nerve fibres. If our bodies don’t produce enough red blood cells this can lead to anaemia, an iron deficiency.
B12 is only found naturally in meat, fish, eggs and milk, although it is often added to cereals, margarines, soya and products and Marmite. As a vegetarian, if you regularly eat eggs and diary you will almost certainly get sufficient B12
Protein: As a meat eater it is easy to get sufficient protein by eating a grilled chicken breast, poached salmon fillet or a piece of steak*. Vegetarians need to plan a little bit more; your protein will come from eggs, dairy, soya products like tofu, beans, lentils, nuts and quinoa. Recent studies have shown most of us, but especially meat eaters eat more protein that we actually need. An excessively high protein intake has been linked to osteoporosis and kidney problems. There are also potential issues with the amount of hormones and chemicals in meat
The recommended protein intake is 45 gs for women and 55 gs for men.
As a guide a 100g chicken breast has about 21g of protein, 100g of tofu has 23g of protein
Iron: Iron from animal sources is more readily absorbed in the body than iron from plant sources, which needs vitamin C to aid the uptake. So for some people eating a piece of
cooked meat can be seen as an easier option than eating kale (high in iron) with an ingredient that contains vitamin C like peppers. The recommended daily intake for women is 14.8mg and for men and post- menopausal women it is 8.7mg
As a guide 100g of beef contains about 3.5 mg of iron and 120g of beans contain about 3g of iron
Good sources of non-meat iron are
- pulses, such as beans, lentils and peas. Try my recipe for spaghetti with lentil pasta sauce, or butter bean bruschetta
- nuts – this homemade nut-butter is so simple to make
- dried fruit, such as raisins
- dark-green vegetables, such as watercress, broccoli and spring greens. My quick and tasty all green stir-fry is packed with iron
- whole grains, such as brown rice and brown bread. Try my super quick vegetable rice dish
- cereals fortified with iron
NB: the body absorbs animal and plant iron differently. Some foods can inhibit the absorption of plant based iron for instance tannins found in strong tea, phytates found in raw bran and wholemeal flour and oxalates found in vegetables like spinach.
Omega 3: mackerel, salmon, sardines and fresh tuna contain high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids; needed for a healthy heart. But vegetarians can obtain these essential fatty acids from flaxseed (also known as linseeds) and rapeseed , walnuts, soya products like tofu and edamame beans and eggs enriched with omega 3 and rapeseed oil
Fats - meat (especially fatty cuts of meat, sausages and bacon) contains mostly saturated fat, which can also be found in butter, lard, pies, cakes, biscuits, cheese and cream.
A vegetarian diet is associated with lower cholesterol levels than meat eaters diet
Most of us eat too much saturated fat – about 20% more than the recommended maximum amount, which is
- no more than 30g a day for men.
- no more than 20g a day for women.
Due to the high calorie value of all fats, eating too much including saturated fat can increase your risk of becoming obese. The latest research suggests that saturated fat does not have the direct link to high cholesterol and heart disease that was originally thought. But more research needs to take place before the government guidelines are reviewed
If you eat too much red meat you can get a build up of hard fat and mineral deposits on the walls of arteries that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
A vegetarian diet is often lower in saturated fat but higher in unsaturated fat (found in avocados, nuts, seeds, oils). It was thought that the unsaturated fat was a ‘good’ fat and protected the heart from disease – this now might not be the case, but further extensive studies are taking place
Vitamins – vegetarians have higher levels of vitamin C and E in their diet. These vitamins contain powerful antioxidants that can protect the body from ‘free radicals’ that if left unchecked can lead to premature aging, increase your risk of certain cancers and life threatening diseases.
For an antioxidant packed meal try my stuffed pepper with bean salad
People with high intakes of antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables are about half as likely to get cancer or heart disease compared with people who have low intakes, like meat eaters
Fibre – If you eat processed foods regularly you could lack fibre in your diet, this could equally apply to meat eaters and vegetarians. However, vegetarians who eat home cooked food generally have higher levels of fibre in their diet because of their increased intake of fruit and vegetables and whole grains . Fibre not only fills you up but also slows down your digestion and allows the maximum amount of nutrients to be absorbed in to your body. Start the day with a wholegrain breakfast of porridge with some blueberries, or a poached egg on wholemeal toast. Have some fruit with your lunch and your favourite curry recipe with extra veg, beans and wholemeal rice for your evening meal. Or try this filling and colourful baked eggs and spicy lentils
Conclusion – veggie or meat?
The evidence seems to imply that a vegetarian diet has more health benefits and less health risks. The NHS also recommend that…
For a healthy lifestyle, all people should aim to eat a diet high in fruit and vegetables and low in saturated fats, salt and sugars, moderate alcohol intake, avoid smoking and take exercise in line with current recommendations.
Meat eaters find it easy to obtain all of their nutrients in simple forms, but generally don’t eat as many fruits and veg.
Vegetarians need to plan their meals more in order to obtain all the nutrients from the food they eat. It often means that a vegetarian has to eat more variety of foods in order to achieve that
Whichever diet you choose to follow always try and achieve balance and moderation. For more advice about theses areas please read some of my previous blog posts