Vegetarians have long shaken off the outdated stereotypical labeling. The lettuce-munching hippy is no more, and many people now appreciate that a vegetarian diet can be interesting and nutritious. It’s estimated that around 7-11 per cent of the UK adult population (between 3-4 million people) are vegetarians, meaning that they have taken all meat (and related by-products) out of their personal food chain completely. Thousands of people choose to convert to vegetarianism for all kinds of reasons (including ethical and sentimental issues). So what are the main benefits?
Meat – particularly red meat – tends to be high in saturated fat. Vegetarians who follow a well-balanced, low fat, high fibre diet tend to have a lower incidence of coronary artery disease, high cholesterol, obesity (which can lead to diabetes, heart disease and strokes), hypertension and some forms of cancer. There are also suggestions that a meat-free diet can help lessen the symptoms of the menopause.
Like most foodstuffs, the cost of good quality fresh meat (and if you’re going to eat meat, make sure you only buy produce reared to the highest welfare standards) has soared. Gram for gram, meat-free protein sources are cheaper than the equivalent amount of animal protein – in short, vegetarians spend a lot less on their food shopping bills than their meat-eating friends.
Growing grains and pulses to feed to animals is much less efficient than growing them to eat ourselves. The livestock industry uses huge amounts of land, water and fossil fuels every year, and produces around 18 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions alongside various other environmental pollutions.
If you’re thinking of becoming vegetarian, follow these three simple tips to a meat-free lifestyle:
1. The ‘Halfway House’ approach
You don’t have to be a voracious vegetarian to enjoy meat-free dishes. Experiment with a couple of non-meat based dishes a week: spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne or chilli made with Quorn, Thai green curry made with roasted vegetables and Paneer (Indian cheese), or vegetarian sausages and mash are perennial family favourites. Such dishes will be significantly lower in fat and calories than their meaty counterparts and, often, even the most committed carnivore will fail to spot the difference!
2. Do your research
Defining why you’re considering becoming vegetarian will help you make the decision that’s right for you, while a whole host of nutritional advice, recipe suggestions and general support will help you stick to the plan. Make friends with the Vegetarian Society
– they’ll supply you with all you need to know.
3. Cook the books