In my last blog I looked at the argument for eating meat, today I want to look at the case for vegetarianism. I think the strongest argument for turning vegan is the impact producing meat has on the environment.
The world’s most respected and oldest medical journal, Lancet, this year published research explaining that meat production is having a bad impact on the environment and is linked to climate change.
The Lancet study says people must radically change their diet to save the planet. Basically our appetite for meat, sugars and processed foods is pushing the planet to breaking point. According to the article, people’s main source of protein should come from plants, not meat.
Environmental vegetarians have long argued that animal-based industries are environmentally destructive and unsustainable. A vegetarian diet requires two-and-a-half times less the amount of land needed to grow food, compared to a meat-based diet. By replacing meat with vegetarian sources of protein, (nuts, seeds, beans and lentils), we can reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. By choosing a vegetarian diet, you could save emissions roughly equivalent to taking a small family car off the road for a year.
A vegetarian diet also uses less water. It takes far less water to produce plant protein than meat. A 250g chicken breast takes over 542 litres of water to produce. Enough to fill your bath tub 6.5 times. Going vegetarian will also help restore the ocean, as around 85 per cent of the world’s fishers are overfished or exploited.
Vegetarian diets are said to be healthier
The environment is not the only reason people opt to go vegetarian. Many vegetarians argue it is better for your body. Dr Joel Fuhrman, author of Eat to Live: The Revolutionary Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss believes that a vegetarian diet is healthy because vegetarians consume less animal fat and cholesterol (vegans consume no animal fat or cholesterol) and instead consume more fibre and more antioxidant-rich produce. Most people’s dietishigh in saturated fats and processed foods, and low in plant-based foods and complex carbohydrates. Two thirds of Australians are overweight and vulnerable to heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Dr Michael Roizen, author of The Real Age Diet: Make Yourself Younger with What You Eat argues that you can add 13 healthy years to your life by going vego. “People who consume saturated, four-legged fat have a shorter life span and more disability at the end of their lives,” said Dr Roizen. “Animal products clog your arteries, zap your energy and slow down your immune system. Meat eaters also experience accelerated cognitive and sexual dysfunction at a younger age.”
The population of Okinawa in Japan have one of the longest life expectancies in the world. They have a low-calorie diet of unrefined complex carbohydrates, fibre-rich fruits and vegetables, and soy.
Are vegetarians just more diet conscious?
Many scientists dispute that a vegetarian diet is intrinsically healthier than a meat-based diet. It may instead be the case that vegetarians are instead more mindful of what they eat. They are health conscientious and aim to keep their weight down. Going vegetarian indicates that they are diet aware; more diet aware than the average person so it is hardly surprising that they are in better health.
A new diet that is now in vogue is the paleo diet. This is meat heavy but many people on the paleo diet are just as healthy as vegetarians. The paleo diet is based on foods similar to what might have been eaten during the Palaeolithic era, which dates from approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. A paleo diet typically includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds – foods that in the past could be obtained by hunting and gathering. A paleo diet limits foods that became common when farming emerged about 10,000 years ago. These foods include dairy products, legumes and grains. Other names for a paleo diet include Palaeolithic diet, Stone Age diet, hunter-gatherer diet and caveman diet. The aim of a paleo diet is to return to a way of eating that’s more like what early humans ate. The diet’s reasoning is that the human body is genetically mismatched to the modern diet that emerged with farming practices. Farming changed what people ate and established dairy, grains and legumes as additional staples in the human diet. This relatively late and rapid change in diet, according to the theory, outpaced the body’s ability to adapt. This mismatch is believed to be a contributing factor to the prevalence of obesity, diabetes and heart disease today. Basically people on a paleo diet advocate eating lots of meat, saying it is healthier for you.
Vegetarians believe they are healthier
But vegetarians still believe their diet is healthier. They even point out that food poisoning is often caused by animal-based foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, fish and seafood. Eating lots more fruit and vegetables also wards off constipation. Dr Roizen also argues you will have more energy if you go vego because as a meat eater you have animal fats in your bloodstream meaning that your arteries don’t open properly and your muscles don’t get enough oxygen.
A vegetarian diet is also said to be better forperi menopausal and menopausal women. Certain foods are rich in phytoestrogens, the plant-based chemical compounds that mimic the behaviour of estrogen. Soy is by far the most abundant natural source of phytoestrogens, but these compounds also can be found in hundreds of other foods such as apples, beets, cherries, dates, garlic, olives, plums, raspberries, squash and yams. Because menopause is also associated with weight gain and a slowed metabolism, a low-fat, high-fibre vegetarian diet can help ward off extra kilograms. Remember meat (particularly battery-farm chicken) and dairy products can be laced with steroids and hormones, which is not great for the peri or menopausal body.
Is eating meat cruel?
Many vegetarians give up meat because they love animals and think that it is cruel that animals are bred and raised for slaughter. Ten billion animals are slaughtered for human consumption every year. And farming practices are becoming meaner. 100 years ago animals roamed freely, today many animals, like pigs and chickens, are factory farmed. They are crammed into cages where they can barely move and fed a diet of grains tainted with pesticides and antibiotics.
These animals spend their entire lives in stalls so small that they can’t even turn around. If you are a meat eater be mindful of this and go for free-range products whenever possible.
Going vego is cheaper than eating meat
Meat is not cheap, and you will find your food bill falls if you give it up. Meat often accounts for a good 10 per cent of our food budget. Eating more vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes instead of beef, chicken and fish would cut individual food bills by about $4,000 a year.
You may not decide to go totally vegetarian but for health and ethical reasons I’ve cut down on the amount of meat I eat. I also opt for free-range products as these are both healthier and kinder.
Why not introduce a couple of vegetarian meals to your diet every week? It will reduce your food bill and you will probably enjoy cooking a few new vegetarian recipes. After all, a change is as good as a holiday.
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ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.