A huge 70 per cent of Aussies are now eating meat-free meals regularly because they believe eating less meat and more plant-based foods is better for their health, recent Newspoll research has found. And a new study suggests they are really onto something.
There’s often the worry that going completely meat-free will leave you deficient in certain nutrients like protein, omega-3 fats, iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin B12. But a recent review, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, looked at the evidence surrounding the adequacy of vegetarian diets and came up with some interesting results to bust that myth.
They suggest that if you plan well, you don’t have to miss out by omitting meat from your diet. In fact, a body of evidence (included in the review) suggests that you might actually reduce your risk of health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. It’s not just about what you take out though – it’s what you put in that matters the most.
The average Australian eats significantly more protein than they need (women need 45-60g and men need 65-80g a day). But this review concluded that the body of Australian research shows vegetarians are still getting enough protein to meet their daily requirements. Legumes, soy products, vegetarian meat alternatives, nuts, seeds and grains (particularly quinoa and amaranth) are all sources of plant-based protein.
The review also found that vegetarians are actually not at greater risk of iron deficiency anaemia, despite eating non-haem iron which is not as well absorbed as the (haem) iron you get from animal sources. Vegetarians often eat lots of vitamin C from fruit and vegies, which actually helps with the absorption of non-haem iron. While getting enough zinc, omega-3 fats, calcium and vitamin B12 may be a little trickier, if you’re including a wide range of plant-based foods you can still meet your requirements for each nutrient. Foods fortified with zinc, calcium, vitamin B12 and plant-based omega-3s such as breakfast cereals and soy milk, yoghurt and cheese can also boost your intake.
So what’s the bottom line? If you do want to go completely meat-free, you can get all the nutrients you need if you plan well and you may even reduce your risk of long-term disease. Make an appointment to see an APD to ensure you’re on the right track. However, if you’re like me and still enjoy eating meat, you could try dipping your toe in the water and experiment with meat-free Mondays. After all, it’s never a bad thing to learn to be more creative with your vegies!