Nutrition and diet trends are constantly evolving and changing with the times and 2017 will always be remembered as the year of the vegetarian.
Approximately 9% of the world’s population are vegetarian with almost 70% of India’s population making up the numbers.
There are many reasons people are veggie or vegan some for religious and cultural reasons, some because of ethics and others because they believe it be a healthier way of life.
Some of the world’s most famous vegetarians include Da Vinci, Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln and even Adolf Hitler.
Cast yourself back a few years to a time when you’d hardly find anything about the vegetarian diet in the mainstream media or on social media, vegetarians themselves were rarer than a sunny day in Manchester.
Fast forward to the present day and you’ll notice vegetarianism is the flavour of the month and there seems to be vegetarians popping up everywhere like Tulips in spring, I find myself surrounded by veggies on my nutrition sciences course in University with approximately 25% of the class being vegan or vegetarian. In the media I read on a weekly basis a new celebrity or sport star that has started to follow a plant based diet with Lewis Hamilton being the latest to switch his dietary ways.
As a carnivorous blood thirsty meat eater for the past 29 years of my existence I have always been curious about vegetarians and often wondered why on earth you wouldn’t want to eat meat, I couldn’t imagine life without my Turkish mixed grill or a steak with blue cheese sauce.
For the best part of a decade I have been in the health industry and I have always maintained that a vegetarian diet is inferior and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone unless for cultural reasons. However my curiosity for how the other half live has seen me study vegetarianism with a passion and I have got some of my best results with clients who are vegetarian or vegan.
But if I wouldn’t recommend vegetarianism to anyone how come I am slowly turning my back on the meat brigade and inching my way closer and closer to “the dark side”?
It started this time last year when I began a research study at university looking at what the effects on the planet would be if everyone ate the same amount of meat as the average Personal Trainer. I was shocked, turns out if everyone in the UK ate the same as us PT’s it would leave a massive carbon footprint in the shape of every driving licence holder (40 million approx.) driving from Manchester to London and back 5x on top of what we already do. It made me start questioning how much meat I really need and if I can start to cut back.
My next light bulb moment was a few weeks ago as I was travelling around Europe. As I walked through the food markets of southern Italy and Greece I noticed fruits and vegetables of all shapes, sizes and colours, all fresh and not a single one pre-packed or pre-chopped. Aubergines the size of a squash, chillies bunched up like a bouquet of red, green and orange flowers, vibrant tomatoes and grapes the size of ping pong balls.
It made me crave vegetables, it made me realise how lazy I am when it comes to cooking with them. I’d often cook a meal and not bother doing any real vegetables with it, terrible I know for a nutritionist.
As a nutrition coach and foodie I often experiment and try new things, sometimes purely for fun, often to share my experiences with clients and trainers and other times to see what works for me personally. I have done elimination diets, atkins diets, low carb, high carb, high protein diets, alkaline diets the lot and I felt it was time to look at seriously following a plant based Mediterranean diet.
I say “Plant based diet” because I still eat meat, fish and dairy and most likely will do going forward however instead of making meat the star attraction I put my attention and focus into making vegetarian based dishes which I can supplement with meat on the side and so far I have loved it.
Benefits I have seen so far are simple…I’m eating 5x the amount of vegetables, I love the flavours and ingredients I am using and feeling full throughout the day reducing the amount of times I lunge for the fridge.
Other benefits of a plant based diet include:
Whole, natural foods
Nutrient dense and can be lower in calories
One of the most common questions posed when it comes to plant based diets is “where do you get protein from?” the answer is simple, there is protein in any form of life on the planet, all fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts, dairy, meat and fish sources contain protein.
Here is a list of vegetarian protein sources
- Tempeh = 20g per 100g
- Beans = 20g per 100g
- Lentils = 10g per 100g
- Quinoa = 8g per 100g
- Tofu = 10g per 100g
- Chia seeds = 17g per 100g
- Seitan = 75g per 100g
- Oats = 17g per 100g
- Pumpkin seeds = 19g per 100g
Now a vegetarian diet isn’t all plain sailing. Although there is ample of protein sources in the veggie world they are not “complete proteins” like animal proteins which means they are missing 1 or 2 important building blocks that are essential to our bodies so to overcome this issue we need to get a variation of protein sources.
For example grains such as rice and legumes like peas combined will give you all 20 amino acids needed in the body.
One deficiency those who follow vegetarian diets have to be aware of are that of Vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 plays a key role in our energy levels and the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body.
Signs of B12 deficiency include
Lack of appetite
Being out of breath
More long term, specific symptoms linked to B12 deficiency include
Mood changes, irritability
Signs of dementia
I feel one of the best decisions I have made in recent years has been to start eating a plant based Mediterranean diet and I can only see vegetarianism growing over the coming years with people being more conscious of what they eat and the affect they are having on our planets future.
I will never go without my steak and I doubt I will ever recommend someone to go fully vegetarian however I do strongly recommend looking at the amount of plant based foods you are eating and experimenting with your diet, removing some meat and fish and replacing them with beans and greens.
My personal opinion is vegetarianism is a modern day fad that will become a focal point of nutrition in the future.