There’s been a lot in the public domain recently about reducing meat consumption, from Horizon’s ‘Should I Eat Meat: The Big Health Dilemma’ series (watch on iPlayer here) to French Michelin starred chef Alain Ducasse adjusting his menu to feature a more conscious collection with meat taking a much reduced role. Meat free Monday (one day a week can make a world of difference) has for some time been campaigning the positive effect skipping one meat meal a day can have on the environment without even raising the health benefits this can bring.
Whether your concern is animal welfare, environmental, health or financial, there are many reasons to shift meat consumption down a gear and try replace with some vegetarian experiments.
Different things work for different people and you should experiment with what works for you. Are you better off with less carbs or no carbs in the evening? Do you need protein supplements? Do you need to use supplements like spirulina to help you get all you green vitamins and minerals in? Do you need an omega 3:6:9 oil supplement to help your brain fire on all cylinders? This all takes time, experimenting and awareness, if in doubt just make sure you’re getting a balanced diet with all 3 food groups represented – fat, carbohydrates and protein and ensuring you’re getting between 5 & 9 different fruits and veg portions per day.
Fats aren’t all bad and we need good fats to help build new cells. The trick is to avoid bad fats and a good rule is to avoid processed foods as the fats are also processed and therefore not the pure good fats you get with coconut, avocado, olive oil etc. Also avoiding fatty meats. Just take a look at the fat from meat once it cools and congeals and consider whether that’s something good for your arteries & blood vessels?
Carbs are important for energy and different types provide different types of energy. White carbs like white rice get a bad reputation but are good for runners who need a burst of easily accessible energy. It’s generally best to go for unprocessed more complex carbohydrates like wholegrains, brain rice, sweet potato etc. Bread & pasta are processed and as such should be minimised. Also wheat in general can be difficult for the body to process and there are growing instances of allergies and intolerance. There was a time when we relied on wheat and bread, but now we have greater accessibility to varied ingredients and good quality food.
Where do you get your protein is the most often asked question by non vegans to vegans. There are so many sources of protein in a vegan diet that don’t carry any of the negatives that meat based proteins have, like bad fats. All foods are a combination of the 3 basic building blocks – fats, carbs and protein, just in varying degrees. You get protein from vegetables, pulses, fruit, even rice.
A glass of orange has 1.7g,
1 cup of chickpeas – 12g,
1 cup of avocado has 3g of protein,
a medium potato with skin has 4g,
6.7g of protein in 1/2 cup of dry oats (about 40g)
9g of protein in 1 cup of cooked quinoa,
1 cup of cooked black beans has 15g of protein
1 cup of lentils 18g,
1 cup of almonds 6g,
1 cup broccoli 4g,
100g of raw kale has 4g of protein and cooked 2g,
1 cup of cooked buckwheat is 13g of protein,
and Chia seeds have a massive 17g of protein per 100g (just over half a cup), although you probably wouldn’t eat that much of it in one go!
before you get into the processed proteins like tofu with 6g of protein in a 1/4 cup.
You should aim for 0.8g of protein for every kg of body weight, 50g is a good amount to shoot for; with 8-10% of your calories coming from protein.
Replacing the meat with your two veg
When you take out the meat, you’re not left with a gaping hole next to your two veg that needs filling. You don’t need vegan sausages, burgers, pies, cutlets etc to complete the holy trinity of a traditional English meal (meat, spuds & 2 veg). We’ve moved on! What began with the spice trade, was complimented with our multi cultural population and as we have travelled, we have welcomed other cultures to our borders. Chicken korma (doesn’t even exist in India!) and fish and chips don’t cut it anymore. We have access to Eritrean cuisine, Caribbean, Turkish, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, South American. The list goes on! We are so lucky to have incredible access to exotic ingredients, flavours and cuisines.
Experiment with developing a few, simple signature dishes. Something easy that you can do when you get home from work so you’re not turning to the takeaway flyer list, put off by the prep and waiting time. Learn some favourites that you can do just as well as the takeaways, only be in charge of your own ingredients and at a reduced price.
My go to meals when I’m hungry, tired, in a rush or on a budget? Lentil Dahl and rice; tofu, veg, garlic & soy sauce noodles; noodle soup; homemade hummus; chickpea paella; risotto; chickpea couscous; mixed bean chilli & rice; green lentil & veg shepherds pie with sweet potato mash; roasted veg, butter beans and veg casserole; chickpea, aubergine & coconut curry; thyme & ginger green lentils with rice; orzo pasta bake; braised onion & fennel couscous; Heart of Palm, chickpea, carrot & tomato stew etc.
They’re all really easy, especially the second time you make them and I’ll start posting more of these recipes. The best thing is to experiment with throwing ingredients and flavours together. Like putting an outfit together but with an idea of what might work. Use recipes to help you get an idea of how to work with ingredients or try a new dish and then go it alone and add your own twist!
Know the tricks
At the start you will probably use a lot more salt in your cooking as your taste buds try to find the strong flavours from meat. Over time the palette will adjust and discover more subtle flavours and you should look to reduce additional salt.
Soaking your pulses helps to reduce the gas experienced by some. Also cooking with cumin or strips of kombu can help reduce this.
Some advise to only add salt at the end of the cooking process with pulses and legumes.
Some iron sources aren’t as easy to extract as others, ie spinach, and need to be combined with a little vitamin c to help extract the full goodness. Squeeze of lemon into the spinach & lentil Dahl or glass of orange juice with your rice and beans? Or even better blend some greens with kiwi for a zingy super juice. Some iron rich vegetables like Brocolli and Bok Choi are also high in vitamin c. Win win.
B12 found in fermented products unfortunately is in an inactive form that can’t be utilised usefully by the body, instead look to get from 1.5mg’s (british recommendation) to 3mg’s (USA recommendation) of B12 per day from products fortified with B12. A 1 slice of toast serving of Marmite gives about 0.6g of B12, although Meridien yeast extract is 2g for the same serving. Alpro fortified Soya has approx 1g per glass. Pure fortified spreads give 0.5g for a 2 slice serving. If you don’t get enough fortified B12 daily, consider taking a daily or weekly supplement.
Breakfast like a King, lunch like a Queen and dinner like a pauper.
We have a slice of toast for breakfast, sandwich for lunch and large meal for dinner culture. Outside of the wheat mountain, do you really need to have your biggest meal a couple of hours before bed or could you have made better use of that fuel with a big breakfast or big lunch? Again different things work for different people, but when stopped eating with tradition and watched when I was hungry and how much filled me up, I realised i am Hungry with a capital H in the morning and lunch time and in the evening I need only a light, small meal. A sandwich is never going to cut it for lunch, but it might work for dinner! Break from tradition and listen to your body.
Rome wasn’t built in a day
Don’t expect to be able to go from meat eater to vegan from one day to the next. It’s much easier to first get used to replacing the meat in your diet with other proteins and then adjust to removing dairy and eggs. It’s like any kind of diet. If you don’t do it sensibly and in a way that is feasible to follow, you’ll quit and say it’s not for you. Be kind to yourself. It’s a journey. The most important thing is that you took the first step and just by reducing your meat consumption you are making a positive impact on climate change, global consciousness and ensuring enough food for all.
Many people I’ve taken along for the occasional vegan ride comment how colourful, tasty & creative Vegan foods are, so there’s lots to enjoy! Go forth and experiment! Don’t forget to tell me all about it!