You may be considering becoming vegetarian or vegan, so here are my top six facts about what the science says on the matter:
- It is true that many of us eat too much red and processed meat. It is often high in saturated fat which is not good for our heart and too much is also not good for our bowel health. We should aim to reduce our intake of red and processed meat to 70g or less each day.
- Consistently scientific studies tell us that plant foods are very good for us. Plant foods provide essential fibre, an abundance of micronutrients as well as less known about phytochemicals thought to benefit our health. We would all benefit from eating more. In relation to improving gut health, it seems that it is not the exclusion of animal produce, but rather inclusion of a wide diversity of plant foods that would most benefit our gut microflora. We should all try to consume 30 different plant foods each week, whether we eat animal produce or not.
- It is possible to get all the protein we need from a vegan diet, if we include the right foods. You might think that being vegan is simply a case of cutting out meat and animal products, however serious thought needs to go into what foods you are going to introduce into your diet to ensure you have enough essential nutrients. Simply cutting out animal products and eating the same other foods is not enough.
- To be vegan and healthy you need to understand the plant based sources of protein, such as pulses, lentils, beans, tofu, nuts and seeds as well as thinking about the sources of those nutrients found in abundance in animal produce such as iron, zinc, calcium, iodine, B12 and omega 3 fatty acids. For example, when choosing dairy substitutes, opt for those fortified with calcium and iodine.
- Consideration should be given as to whether to take relevant nutritional supplements to make up for nutrients in short supply in a vegan diet, particularly B12. Animal sources of certain nutrients such as omega 3 and vitamin D have been found to be more efficient in the body compared to vegetarian sources, so these may also need to be supplemented.
- Processed vegan foods are unlikely to be any healthier than equivalent animal-based processed foods. Vegan sausages, pies and cakes may well be low in fibre, high in fat, salt and/or sugar.
My opinion is that it doesn’t need to be all or nothing. Cutting down on the amount of meat you eat would be a good idea for the planet and for your health, but my view is you don’t need to exclude all animal produce to be healthy, just choose lean cuts of meat, skimmed/semi-skimmed milks and reduced fat cheeses, and have less often.