Have you fallen off the vegetarian wagon?

A report by the Humane Research Council (HRC) was released earlier this week (December 2014), stating that 84% of American vegetarians/vegans revert back to eating meat or other animal products.  I was asked to comment on this on BBC 5 Live this morning and only having 60 seconds to make your point led me to this blog post!

HRC have generated this great infographic to summarise their findings………………It would be interesting to have some similar stats for the UK but I don’t think we will necessarily be that far off the mark as the UK diet is also pretty rich in convenience and processed meat.

So the most popular reason for becoming a vegetarian was to be healthy. This appears to be insufficient to sustain a vegetable based diet in the long term. I wonder what we actually mean when we say it’s for health reasons? Do we go vegetarian to help with weight loss? (no, not necessarily true at all) Or is it simply an attempt to feel ‘healthier’ or generally better in ourselves? Is it for a particular health reason such as to look after your heart? Have you read that eating meat increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes? Perhaps being vegetarian makes you more health conscious; if you are thinking more about the food you eat? Some studies have shown that vegetarians have a lower BMI and tend to be healthier (drink less, smoke less, lower blood pressure etc.) compared to non-vegetarians. However, when the comparison is made between equally health conscious vegetarians and non-vegetarians, there was no difference at all. The important thing to remember here is that vegetarian diets are not automatically healthier – as a Nation that relies heavily on convenience, please be aware that vegetarian processed foods are generally no better than non-vegetarian processed foods, all typically being high in fat, salt and sugar. Apparently a large majority of former vegetarians made the transition to a vegetarian diet very quickly; in a matter of days or weeks. Is one of the reasons we fall off the vegetarian waggon because we are unprepared as to which foods are now off the menu? Do we appreciate what impact the diet will have on our food intake and are then surprised by the reality of what is actually involved. Is it harder to find decent vegetarian food when eating out or it it awkward having to justify to your friends why you are or are not eating something? Do you even enjoy eating vegetables, beans and pulses?! Are you prepared to get imaginative in the kitchen and knock up a new range of delicious meat-free dishes? These factors could certainly become a significant barrier to successfully adopting a vegetarian diet.  Interestingly the HRC report suggested many ex-vegetarians would like to go back to being meat free and so perhaps people would find more support through groups and organisations helpful. Click here for the vegetarian society website and here for the vegan society where you can find more information and support. Chicken is probably the most common type of meat consumed by the UK public – if going vegetarian, what do we replace it with that is as cheap and versatile? A vegetarian diet can often be cheaper than a meat based one – protein is expensive compared to plant based foods – but you may need to shop around to get value for money. Don’t forget that any long term dietary changes need to be achievable, sustainable and most importantly, work for you. Typically, vegetarians & vegans can avoid nutritional problems IF appropriate food choices are made. Like everybody else, vegetarians and vegans must eat a wide variety of foods but some nutrients we obtain from plants are present in lower amounts or are less readily absorbed so it becomes even more important to eat plenty of whole grains, pulses, dark green leafy veg, seeds and nuts, including seed and nut oils.

So if you want to cut out meat from your diet, the message here is do your research first – determine how dietary changes will affect what you and your family buys and eats. Obviously this is a personal choice but having the support of your family and friends around you can make a huge difference. Eating should not be a chore and you should not feel as if you are constantly depriving yourself – it just won’t work in the long run. As for the rest of us that eat meat regularly, we should probably try to cut down how often we have it. We do not need to eat meat every day (although my husband can see no sense at all in this as he told me could never ever go vegetarian! *sigh*) but meat in moderation is absolutely fine. Ideally limit red meat to once a week and include a variety of lean poultry and pork in your diet, as well as fish (recommendations say we should have oily fish at least 2-3 times a week). Why not try going meat free for 2 days a week. If you need some inspiration try meat free monday!  or BBC Good Food have classic recipes minus the meat. Let me know how you get on………….