Vegetarian and vegan diets have exploded in popularity over the past decade. There are now more than 3 million vegetarians and 600,000 vegans in the UK. And there are many good reasons, from your health to the environment, for eating less meat. If you are going to be eating less red and processed meat anyways, why not become a part-time vegetarian? Done properly, having some meat-free meals every week can improve your health and save you money.
Generally speaking, a diet based on plants means more fruits and vegetables, is higher in fibre, and lower in saturated fats. The kind of things recommended for any healthy diet! Numerous studies have found that vegetarians (people who eat no meat or fish but still have eggs and dairy products) and vegans (who eat no animal products of any kind) have better health than the general population. A large meta-analysis of 86 different studies found vegetarians weighed less, and had a lower risk of getting heart disease or cancer1. The effects were even more pronounced for vegans.
However, the problem with most of these studies is that, by definition, vegetarians and vegans care more about what they eat than the general population. They tend to eat more fruits and vegetables, and less junk and fast foods. So, it may not be the lack of fish and chicken in their diet that makes them so healthy, but the lack of bacon and burgers (as we saw yesterday). In fact, a large study of over 267,000 men and women found that when other dietary factors were accounted for, vegetarians and vegans lived no longer than people following a healthy diet2. And being a strict vegetarian or vegan can put you at increased risk of certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies, including iron and vitamin B12.
Becoming a part-time vegetarian allows you to take advantage of the health benefits of a plant-based diet, while avoiding the pitfalls. Having several meals based on vegetables, pulses and whole grains increases the amount of fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals in your diet. Including some meat and fish ensures you get enough protein, iron, and vitamin B12 for energy.
Cost is often cited as another benefit of giving up meat. However, this can be misleading. Yes, 100g of tofu costs less than 100g of steak. However, when you compare the amount of tofu you would have to eat to get the same amount of protein as in a steak, the cost is about the same. To illustrate this point, I’ve included the cost of 25g of protein from a variety of foods below:
|Protein source||Amount you need to eat to get 25g of protein||Cost of that amount*|
|Frozen salmon fillets (raw amount)||125g||£1.14|
|Frozen Quorn mince||175g||£1.04|
|Beef steak (raw amount)||110g||0.96|
|Fat free Greek yoghurt||245g||£0.85|
|Tinned beans (kidney beans, borlotti beans, etc.)||325g||£0.75|
|Chicken breast (raw amount)||105g||£0.57|
|Free range eggs||About 3 large||£0.48|
Having said that, you can certainly save money by swapping some meat and fish for vegetarian protein sources, such as eggs and beans. And don’t forget that we eat very few foods in isolation. For example, you could pair a bean stew with whole grain rice or quinoa to increase the protein content. One thing to note is that the processed meat replacements, like Quorn mince and vegetarian burgers, are by far the most expensive. Once again, the more cooking you can do for yourself, using raw ingredients, the better!
Consider becoming a part-time vegetarian as another tool for healthy eating on a budget!
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*All prices from the Tesco.com website and are correct as of 15/01/2020
- Dinu M et al. Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: A systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Nov 22;57(17):3640-3649. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2016.1138447.
- Mihrshahi S et al. Vegetarian diet and all-cause mortality: Evidence from a large population-based Australian cohort – the 45 and Up Study. Prev Med. 2017 Apr;97:1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2016.12.044. Epub 2016 Dec 29.