Meat is delicious, fills you up and is easy to cook. Unfortunately, research is beginning to show the farming of animals is having a devastating impact on the environment. Additionally, the consumption of meat, dairy and eggs could be damaging to our health. Before this article is dismissed with a groan as just another chapter in the pushy vegan agenda, I feel I must preface it with the disclaimer I am in fact not a vegan. I am not a vegetarian. I am not even a pescaterian. What I am is a person who cares about the planet, my body and the longevity of the environment I live in.
The twentieth century has been characterised by a rise of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and obesity. Heart disease and cancer, the top two killers in the western world, are a result of genetics, lifestyle and diet. Genetics cannot be changed, but diet and exercise are within people’s control.
The three main elements that contribute to heart disease are an excess of saturated fat, trans-fatty acids and cholesterol. Animal products are high in saturated fat and trans-fatty acids. Cholesterol is found ONLY in animal products. Therefore, reducing the amount of animal products you consume could decrease your chances of heart disease. In a US study, death rates from heart disease in vegetarian men were less than half of that of the general population and twenty percent less in women.
Research suggests there is an increase in the risk of colon, kidney and prostate cancer when there is increase in meat foods consumed. This is due to the hormone IGF1. IGF1 is the human growth hormone found in protein. Where there is an excess of this hormone there is OVER growth, resulting in the growth of cancerous tumors. Even though vegans consume the same amount of protein as meat eaters, plant protein does not contain nearly as much IGF1. This is because animal protein is more closely matched to human protein and therefore promotes greater growth. Therefore, increasing the amount of plant protein you consume and reducing the amount of meat protein you consume could reduce your risk of developing cancer.
Please bear in mind research into heart disease and cancer is still in its early stages. A vegetarian diet will not cure, or ensure 100% protection against heart disease and cancer. However, your risk of contracting these diseases are proven to be lessened with a decrease in the amount of meat that you consume.
The main argument I am faced with when I discuss vegetarianism with my carnivorous gym-junkie friends is about protein. How on earth are we going to get protein on Meat-Free Monday if we are not eating animal products!?
Grains, beans, seeds, nuts, tofu and other soy foods can provide you with as much protein as animal products. A chicken leg actually has less protein (approx. 15g) than a cup of cooked lentils, beans or soybeans (approx. 18g). A boiled egg contains 6.2g of protein, which you can also get from less than half a cup of cashew nuts.
It is even possible to have dairy free protein shakes. Pea protein has an amino acid profile similar to whey protein which fulfills all of the essential amino acid requirements outlined by the World Health Organisation. Pea protein contains approximately 25g of protein per 30g scoop, as opposed to the 23g contained in whey protein. In fact, because pea protein does not contain allergens such as dairy and gluten, it is easier to digest and combats a lot of the uncomfortable symptoms that can come with consuming whey protein such as bloating and gas.
Many argue it is so much harder to get adequate protein from a meat free diet. So many more veggies have to be consumed for you to be able to get what you need. The truth is, you probably do not need as much protein as you think you do.
The recommended daily intake of protein for the average person can be calculated as 0.8g per kg. The American Dietetic Association, Dieticians of Canada and the America College of Sports Medicine recommend endurance athletes should consume 1.2 - 1.8g of protein per kg. The most elite athletes at their early stages of training when their muscle mass is increasing can aim for 2 - 2.3g protein per kg. If you're a 75kg guy trying to build muscle you still only really need 150g of protein per day.
In fact, research has shown people in developed countries are not lacking in protein at all, but in fiber. Less than 3% of people are meeting their minimum daily requirement of fiber, which is 31.5g. Low fiber is linked with diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Fiber is only found in plants, not in meat, dairy or eggs. Those on a vegetarian diet have been shown to have triple the fiber intake of non-vegetarians.
It is a little known fact animal agriculture is the number one cause of climate change. Due to methane gas given off by livestock, rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than the transport sector. The clearing of land to raise livestock is the leading cause of resource destruction, environmental degradation and species extinction. Additionally, raising animals is an incredibly water intensive practice. For example, 15,500L of water is needed to produce just 1kg of beef.
The Netherlands’ Environmental Assessment Agency conducted research in 2009 into what would happen if every person in the world simultaneously had a massive change of heart and decided to stop eating animal products. Agriculture related carbon emissions would be reduced by 17%, methane emissions by 24% and nitrous oxide emissions by 21% by 2050.
If people allocated just one day per week to eating ‘meat free’ this would reduce the meat in their diet by 1/7. If you want to do your part in taking care of our environment, all it takes is one day out of your entire week.
Meat free Monday in a nutshell
So there you have it, a pile of evidence shows that cutting down meat will be better for the health of you and your planet. The following series will provide recipes to get you through one day without consuming animal products. I have selected recipes I eat that are nutritious, filling and easy to make. The ingredients I use can be found at any local supermarket and are ones I, as a carnivore, am familiar with and enjoy. I can promise you won't even notice you have not had meat on your Monday.
Here’s a taste of what my meat free Monday usually looks like. For breakfast I ditch the two-egg omelette and have porridge with almond milk instead. For my post workout snack I have a protein shake with pea protein and almond milk. For morning tea I have a banana. Lunch consists of a quinoa salad. Afternoon tea is a smoothie and dinner is veggie stacks with sweet potato mash.
1/2 cup quick oats (13g protein)
1 cup almond milk (2g protein)
1 tbspn honey
A dash of cinnamon
1 medium banana (optional) (1.3g protein)
Microwave for 90 seconds
Mix in some fresh banana afterwards
½ frozen banana (not essential but I find this improves the consistency of the smoothie and makes it extra cold)
1tbsp peanut butter
1 cup almond milk
A dash of cinnamon
A squidge of honey
Blend together in a blender or nutria-bullet.
Quinoa is one of those types of food that ticks all the boxes. I put it in a lot of my meals because it is filling, nutritious, easy to cook and goes with almost everything. Quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids outlined by the WHO as necessary to an adult diet. It is high in fiber, magnesium, B-vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorous and vitamin E. Additionally, quinoa is considered a complete protein source, unlike other grains which are considered inadequate. This is because quinoa is actually part of the same food family as spinach, swiss chard and beets. If you're not going to have meat in your diet, quinoa is a great alternative.
1 cup of quinoa (20g protein)
Half kent pumpkin (5g protein)
1 can of chickpeas (48g protein)
1 zucchini (3g protein)
1 red onion
3 tbsp pesto
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tspn cumin
Rinse quinoa with water thoroughly before cooking otherwise it can become gritty.
Add two cups of boiled water to one cup of quinoa to a small pot and place the lid half on.
Let the water and quinoa simmer for 20 minutes or until all of the water is reduced.
Remove skin and seeds from pumpkin and chop into approximately 2cm pieces.
Remove skin from onion and roughly chop.
Place onion and pumpkin in an oven proof tray with baking paper. Drizzle with oil and season lightly with salt, pepper and cumin.
Cook for 30 minutes on 180C.
Chop zucchini into approximately 1cm pieces. Cook in fry pan with oil, salt and pepper until crispy.
Once the quinoa is cooked, mix in a large bowl with pesto, lemon, a handful of chopped parsley and the chickpeas. Add zucchini, onion and pumpkin. Serve hot or cold.
Tofu & veggie stacks w/ sweet potato smash
A carnivorous meal is quite often characterised by some type of meat as the centerpiece, with carbohydrates and vegetables as a side. It's difficult to shift this mindset, so with my meat free meals I tend to continue with this habit. Tofu is fermented soy bean pressed into a slab that acts as a great substitute for meat. There are many benefits of replacing meat with tofu. It can lower your intake of cholesterol and saturated fat. Tofu is high in protein and in fiber - nutrients essential to our diet. Soy foods also contain a wide variety of phytonutrients and, due to the process of fermentation, they are especially concentrated in tofu. Phytonutrients protect the human body against disease. They are anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. Phytonutrients enhance immunity and repair DNA damage from exposure to toxins which, in turn, helps to protect against cancer and heart disease. Taking out meat? Just add tofu.
1 Capsicum (2g protein)
250g firm organic tofu (20g protein)
1 large sweet potato (4g protein)
Eggplant (2g protein)
1 avocado (4g protein)
1 teaspoon butter
Cut capsicum into four pieces, so that each side is divided up and is relatively flat. This will make up the second layer of the stack.
Place in a baking tray with baking paper, drizzle lightly with oil and season with salt and pepper.
Cook for 30 minutes at 180C.
Sweet Potato Mash
Remove skin from sweet potato and cut into approximately 1cm chunks. Place in boiling water for 10-15 minutes or until soft.
Smash up sweet potato with a fork so that it is broken up but still chunky. Mix through with 1 teaspoon of butter and a few gratings of ginger to taste.
I buy organic tofu from Coles in the refrigerated aisle.
Cut into 1cm slices.
To remove moisture place in a strainer and pour over briefly with boiling water. Place on a board and press the moisture out with paper towels. Let sit for 10 minutes.
Lightly season tofu with salt and pepper.
Fill fry pan half a cm with cooking oil.
Fry for 2 minutes each side or until golden brown.
Cut eggplant into 2cm thick slices. Fry on a fry pan with oil for approximately 7 minutes each side or until cooked through.
Mix avocado with lemon and salt and pepper to a smooth consistency.
Layer all the elements that you have cooked, alternating each vegetable with a spread and serving the sweet potato smash on the side. For example:
Tofu, seeded mustard, basil leaf, eggplant, avocado, capsicum.
Other vegetables such as mushroom and zucchini can be added, but I would advise against having more than three levels to the stack otherwise it can become unbalanced, fall apart and be difficult to eat.
- Comfortably Unaware, Dr Richard Oppenlander
- Michael Greger, How Not To Die
- Becoming Vegetarian, Vesanto Melina, Brenda Davis