As a future Health Coach, I don’t advocate any specific diet, for the simple reasons that Diets don’t work and there is no such thing as one-diet-fits-all. We are all unique individuals with different needs, body types, lifestyles, etc. Some need meat, others don’t; it’s called bio-individuality, one person’s food is another person’s poison. You know what’s best for you, but maybe you can make the right choice with some information in hands.
In this article I will therefore discuss the benefits of a vegetarian diet and also what you can do if you don’t really feel like eliminating meat from your diet…yet.
What is a vegetarian diet?
Basically, a vegetarian diet rules out meat, poultry, seafood and fish. Some eat eggs, other don’t – some consume dairy products, some others don’t. There is actually a variety of vegetarians:
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians: eat eggs and dairy products.
- Lacto vegetarians: consume dairy products but no eggs.
- Ovo vegetarians: eat eggs but no dairy products.
- Plant-based: generally don’t consume meat but may occasionally eat fish (pescatarian) or poultry (pollo-vegetarian).
Now, being a vegetarian doesn’t necessarily mean having a healthy diet; and in the same way, a diet containing meat is not inevitably unhealthy. Pizza, crisps, white bread, and McDonald’s veggie burgers technically fall under the vegetarian category, but they’re definitely not the healthy choices.
What is a healthy vegetarian diet?
It’s a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. It’s therefore low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and rich in vitamins C and E, dietary fibre, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, zinc, calcium, iron, protein, omega-3 fatty acid, and antioxidants. In my humble opinion, a healthy vegetarian diet should be free of refined sugar and processed products.
Why should you consider going vegetarian?
1. You’ll be healthier, happier and have more energy. By adopting a healthy vegetarian diet, you’ll reduce the risk for many chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, high-blood pressure, diabetes (to only name a few) – and also depression. Your skin will clear out, your nails and hair will get stronger (this is my experience and many others’); and apparently, vegetarians tend to have better vision. In other words, a vegetarian diet will help you live a long and happy life!
2. You’ll have better athletic performances. There is a misconception that athletes need loads of animal protein to perform well; studies have shown that vegetal protein are as efficient as animal ones, and – when it’s done right – the vegetarian diet is optimal for sports performance. A number of elite athletes are actually vegetarian (even vegan): Serena Williams, Lewis Hamilton, among others. And, call me crazy but some strong and powerful animals are also vegan: elephants, rhinos, hippos, horses and bisons. You see, it’s not essential to eat meat to have a strong body and build big muscles.
3. You’ll support animal rights. According to the the Animal Equality organisation, over 56 billion farmed animals are killed every year by humans. You can find loads of heartbreaking and infuriating videos and articles showing the dreadful conditions in which animals are often reared, transported and slaughtered. As silly as it might sound to some, animals are thinking and feeling creatures, they also deserve a life worthy of the name. Hens need to run outside freely, and sheep and cows need to graze happily.
4. You’ll contribute to a healthier planet. A plant-based diet is better for the planet because it requires less energy, less water and less farmland (meat production is a major cause for deforestation, did you know that?).
Do you know how many litres of water are required to produce a kilo of beef? 15,000! I repeat, 15,000 litres for one single kilo of beef! And on the other hand, only 284 litres are used to produce a kilo of broccoli.
Finally, we shouldn’t forget that farm animals fart and poop a lot – yes, it’s funny but it’s also super serious – and their gases (mainly methane) are a big contributor to global warming. Don’t believe it? Check out here for more info.
5. You’ll save money. Plant foods are generally cheaper, especially if you buy local and seasonal. I know by experience that you can be vegetarian on a budget, with a little creativity and some good source of inspiration.
What if you really don’t feel like going vegetarian?
Don’t beat yourself up, as I said earlier I reckon it’s a very personal choice and it doesn’t suit everyone. The concept of bio-individuality applies here as well, you know your body better than anyone and what it needs, if it’s screaming that it wants the meat, then you should give it to it.
Now, I reckon you can make the choice to be a healthier and more conscious meat-consumer, both to your benefit and the planet’s. Here are a few suggestions:
- Reduce your weekly intake, try going meat free for one day a week, then two, then why not three? Check out this inspiring Ted Talk: Why I became a weekday vegetarian.
- Keep in mind that the right portion should only be the size of the palm of your hand.
- Buy good-quality meat. Get informed, know where the meat comes from and how it was raised. Be sure to check the dates when buying fresh animal products and also look for the terms “organic”, “free-range” or “cage-free”, and “certified humane” (meaning raised without antibiotics or hormones) on labels. It might a be a little more expensive, but if you buy less, it won’t make any difference.
Whatever you decide, going vegetarian or not, experiment and see what works best for you!
My sources of information are the following:
- My Integrative Nutrition course
- Integrative Nutrition, Feed Your Hunger for Health & Happiness, Joshua Rosenthal
- Slim for Life: Freedom from the Diet Trap, Jason Vale
- Forks over Knives documentary
- What the Health documentary