Why you should be verging on vegetarian

Why you should be verging on vegetarian

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You don’t have to be a full-time dedicated vegetarian to enjoy the health benefits.

So, you’re not a vegetarian, but don’t eat meat every day? You’re not alone. A  Newspoll survey (commissioned by Sanitarium) shows 44% of Australians report eating at least one meat-free evening meal a week, while 18% said they prefer plant-based meals.

Part-time vegetarians, or ‘flexitarians’, are those who eat vegie-style most of the time, but can be tempted by the occasional chicken drumstick from the barbecue or grandma’s beef casserole.

The trend is gaining in popularity, as people try to boost the variety of their diets, cram in more vegetables and become increasingly conscious of their environmental footprint.

A healthy balance
There’s a thing or two even the most committed meat-eater can learn from vegetarians.

A vegetarian diet is said to reduce your chances of developing many diseases, and may even help you live longer than your meat-eating counterparts. 

Eating meat-free for 1 day a week has even been advocated by Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who says that vegetarianism can help tackle global warming by cutting down on the carbon dioxide emitted during animal feed production and the methane produced by the animals themselves.

Gourmet dining
Gone are the days when there was just one vegetarian option on the menu, likely to include limp lettuce and floppy tofu. Now, chefs are embracing plant-based cooking as a way of expanding their menus, challenging convention and experimenting with food.

Otto Ristorante in swanky Woolloomooloo has a vegan menu with such delights as beer-battered zucchini flowers with caponata and risotto al piselli – pea risotto with crispy eschalots and fresh pea tendrils.

Pump up the protein
Remember, if you opt for full-time vegetarianism, don't simply remove the meat from your diet. You could end up not consuming enough protein, iron, zinc, calcium or B12 (which is only found in animal foods).

Instead, swap meat or fish for healthy vegetarian substitutes. For example, switch the meat in a stir-fry for tofu and some cashew nuts, or make your casserole with a mixture of chickpeas, lentils and cannellini beans instead of stewing beef.

There is a huge range of vegetarian proteins, from vegetarian burgers and Quorn, to less processed options like tofu and tempeh. Eggs and dairy products contain small amounts of B12, as do fortified products, such as soy beverages and soy sausages.

Keep tins of lentils and beans in the pantry to add a hit of vegie protein to your meals. Try adding drained, rinsed lentils to your next spaghetti bolognese along with a bit less mince, to up the nutrition.

Cooking by colour

Make your dinner plate a rainbow of colours for the most nutritious meal. Different hued vegetables contain different phytonutrients depending on their colour.

Yellow and orange fruit and vegies owe their colour to carotenoids, which fight disease and boost immunity – think carrots, mango, pumpkin, sweet potato and corn. Green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli also contain carotenoids, but their colour comes from chlorophyll.

Red, purple and blue vegetables and fruits like eggplant, capsicum and blueberries contain anthocyanins which fight cancer and neurological disorders.

Vegetarian recipes are arguably more interesting than meat ones as the flavours and textures are so diverse.

As ‘notorious’ carnivore, British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, wrote in The Guardian about his decision to cut down his meat intake:

“The dialogue I'm keen to begin with other meat-eaters is not about vegetarianism, it's about vegetables. I would love to persuade you to eat more vegetables. And thereby to eat less meat – and maybe a bit less fish too. Why? To summarise, we need to eat more vegetables and less flesh because vegetables are the foods that do us the most good and our planet the least harm,” he writes in The Guardian.