Cutting Out Meat Healthily – Vegetarian/Vegan Wellness For Body And Mind

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by Gemma Traynor

As the world becomes more and more aware of the cruel conditions inherent in many meat-farms [1], and the shocking environmental impact of large-scale livestock farming [2], more and more of us are finding ourselves unable to achieve spiritual equilibrium while eating unethically sourced meat. A healthy conscience is vital for a healthy soul – and those of us which cannot access ethical meat, or those of us who believe that no meat at all can be ‘ethical’ are increasingly turning to vegetarianism or even veganism. However, this is not without its challenges. In order to do so in a manner good both for your body and your soul, it is important to do your research and cut out meat in the proper, healthy and ethically informed manner.

Bodily Health
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding plant-based diets. Most commonly, people are heard to issue dire warnings to vegetarian and vegan friends regarding their protein intake. However, they need not be so concerned. While there are plenty of things which a vegetarian/vegan diet may be lacking in [3], assuming that the diet they eat is reasonably balanced, protein is not one of them. People who eat a wide variety of different fruits and vegetables, and mix them with plenty of pulses and legumes will be getting plenty of protein. They may not be getting quite as much protein than their meat-eating compatriots but, in all honesty, the amount of protein in the average Western diet more than exceeds recommended limits, and the protein levels in a vegetarian or vegan diet are probably much healthier [4]. However, a plant-based diet cannot adequately provide for many of our other needs. B vitamins, minerals like zinc and calcium, and omega 3 fatty acids are hard to come by without meat and/or dairy products, so those on a strict vegan diet would be advised to make provisions for these things in order to stay healthy. Try also to eat plenty of dark green, leafy veg to top up iron levels.

Getting The Right Nutrients
B Vitamins – B Vitamins, especially B12, are extremely hard to come by without eating meat. Vegetarians and vegans are advised to take a supplement to get healthy levels of these.

Zinc – Zinc deficiency may well be the culprit behind the popular stereotype of vegetarians as being weak and prone to illness, as zinc is essential for a healthy immune system. It is hard for a vegetarian diet to make up the recommended amount of zinc [5], but can be done by eating plenty of grains and seeds. Sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds are good sources of zinc.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids – Flax seeds are a lifesaver for those who can’t or won’t eat fish or fish oils, but they need to be crushed before eating in order to release the fatty acids. Walnuts are also a convenient and tasty source of Omega 3s.

Calcium – If you’re a vegan and don’t eat dairy products, calcium may well become a problem for you. In order to keep your calcium levels topped up and your bones healthy, eat plenty of broccoli, bok choy, beans, okra, almonds, tahini, mustard greens, and tempeh.

A Healthy Conscience
There is, however, a lot more to being a vegetarian/vegan with a healthy conscience than simply cutting out meat. If you’re going down this route because of ethical concerns related to the environment and animal welfare, then it’s worth noting that the producers of vegetables are often little better than their livestock-rearing counterparts when it comes to green and ethical credentials. Like any other businesspeople, farmers seek to make a profit – and the competitive nature of the global food market means that, often, the only way to do this is at the expense of the environment. Modern farming practices are increasingly unsustainable, and are wreaking havoc upon the planet. Indeed, farming is one of the most damaging industries around, causing problems ranging from greenhouse emissions to water pollution to the poisoning of the soil to the mass extinction of many species [6]. Those who are giving up meat for a love of animals should note that fruit, cereal, and vegetable production is causing a serious loss of habitat across Britain and the world, which is likely to result in an irreversible spate of extinctions of some of our most beloved animal, invertebrate, and bird species [7]. This is not to say that all producers are like this, however. Some farmers see themselves as custodians of the planet, and treat it with far more responsibility than others. The trick is to source your food from these people, rather than from the big, damaging agribusinesses.

Eating Responsibly
Buy Small And Local – Often, small local vendors are more ethical and responsible than larger, global producers. They are less likely to bathe big fields in chemicals, and more likely to listen to concerns regarding their farming practices.

Buy Organic – Organic food may be expensive, but it’s far better for the environment.

Grow Your Own – If you’re really stuck for ethical food sources, try growing your own fruits and vegetables, perhaps in co-operation with others on an allotment or someone’s garden. It’s rewarding work, and pays dividends in a clean conscience!

Resources

[1] PETA, “Factory Farming: Misery for Animals”
[2] Bryan Walsh, “The Triple Whopper Environmental Impact of Global Meat Production”, Time, Dec 2013
[3] KM, “Avoiding Common Vegetarian and Vegan Dietary Deficiencies”
[4] Brady Dennis, “Too much protein could lead to early death, study says”, The Washington Post, Mar 2014
[5] USDA, “Vegetarians, Watch Your Zinc!”
[6] Mari Walls, “Agriculture And Environment”, MTT Agrifood Research Finland, 2006
[7] RSPB, “State of Nature”, 2013

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