This is the question on everyone’s lips, according to a leading dietitian. But before you make this switch, this is what you need to consider.
There’s been plenty of discussion in the wider media of late around vegetarian diets, and the pros and cons of becoming vegetarian, and in practice, more and more people have asked me if they should cut meat from their diets. Here’s what to consider first.
Reasons for making the change
The three most common reasons individuals often choose to cut back on meat are ethical reasons, environmental reasons, and health reasons.
Ethical reasons for ceasing eating meat relate to violation of animal rights, in that a living being must be killed in order for a human to eat it. Welfare also plays a role, with conditions many animals are brought up in a matter of contention. This topic is often hotly debated, with pros and cons available for both sides of the argument.
Environmentally, cutting back on meat consumption has a positive impact on green house gas emissions. Widespread adoption of a vegetarian diet would bring down emissions by 63%. Further to this, industrial farming methods have a significant impact on health of the soil, with soil being eroded 10-40 times faster than it is being renewed in some areas. Water use should also be considered; the average annual water foot print of a cow raised for meat is 630m3 per year, for dairy cattle this is 2056m3, or the 520m3 for a pig. Compared to 250g of lentils, which only needs 1.75m3, the difference is astounding.
High rates (operative word, high) of meat consumption have been linked to cancer (particularly bowel), heart disease, diabetes, obesity and alzheimer’s disease. Whilst poor quality processed meats are in particularly problematic, land animals in general can result in increased risk when consumed in excess. Australian guidelines recommend no more than 100g of meat per day, due to the potential health risks, and getting your protein from plant based sources.
But… what about reasons to continue to eat meat?
Whilst there is the ethical problems with eating meat, many individuals feel that as long as the animal has been well cared for, continuing consumption when the entire reason for their being is to provide food is okay.
From an environmental perspective, given how much most people over consume meat, even cutting intake back can have a hugely positive environmental effect. Yes, becoming vegetarian can result in 63% reduction in green house gas emissions, but with simply cutting back on meat consumption to within dietary guidelines emissions could be halved.
Meat provides a good source of protein, iron and B12 in particularly. Whilst we can source these nutrients from other sources, it is often easier to meat daily needs when they are included.
So what to do?
Making the decision to cut out meat is a big, scary one. Not ready to commit? Maybe its time to consider becoming a flexitarian, or weekday vegetarian. What is that? 5 days a week, choosing non-meat food sources, by replacing meat with legumes, tofu, eggs, nuts and seeds. This can significantly reduce your intake of meat, whilst still meaning you can have those meatballs/steak/chicken a couple of times per week.
Here are 5 ways to reduce your meat intake, for those who are used to having it daily!
- Incorporate meat as a side part of the dish, rather than the main. For example, having a smaller serve of steak, and pairing with cannellini bean mash (for extra plant protein) and vegetables
- Halving your portion of mince for spaghetti Bolognese and adding in lentils or kidney beans to bulk it out
- Try ‘Meat Free Monday’ as a once a week way to have less meat, then build from there
- When making stir fry, halve portion of meat or chicken, and add tofu
- Make flavoursome vegetarian casseroles, soups and curries with plenty of herbs and spices, and chickpeas or other plant proteins instead of using meat
If you are concerned about your health, book an appointment with your GP who will be able to advise a correct health plan for you.