Health benefits of going meat-free

“MY client's 15-year-old daughter this summer decided that, like her favourite singer Harry Styles, from now on she would be a pescatarian, and would no longer be eating meat, only fish,” said nutritional therapist Elysia Gardner as she shared with All Woman a conversation she recently had with a client. “She thought it was a fad that would be over quickly, but it's been months, and the teen has managed to stay the course. She's worried, of course, but I assured her that done right, this diet does have immense benefits.”

The pescatarian diet is the practice of eating vegetarian but still including seafood in the diet. It's practised by some three per cent of the world's population, Gardner shared. What makes cutting out meat beneficial?

Research shows that people who eat red meat are at an increased risk of death from heart disease, stroke or diabetes. Processed meats also increase the risk of death from these diseases. But you don't even have to drop meat cold turkey. The Mayo Clinic says even reducing meat intake marginally has a protective effect.

“A plant-based diet, which emphasises fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes, and nuts is rich in fibre, vitamins, and other nutrients. And, people who don't eat meat generally eat fewer calories and less fat, weigh less, and have a lower risk of heart disease than non vegetarians do,” the Mayo Clinic said.

What are some of the other health benefits of going meatless?

Improves circulation

Eating more fruits and vegetables also improves your circulation, which significantly affects blood flow to the brain and other organs.

Richer diet

A diet that is rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables and legumes will be high in nutrients such as protein, potassium, folate, antioxidants and vitamins. Folate is essential in the formation of red blood cells, while vitamins and antioxidants are great for maintaining healthy skin and hair, repairing body tissue, and keeping internal systems running smoothly.

Aids digestion

Dietary fibre is essential to maintaining a healthy digestive tract. It is found mainly in fruits, vegetable and legumes — the stuff you will be eating during every meal if you go meatless. Fibre normalises bowel movements and reduces constipation, and helps in the absorption of important nutrients in the small intestines, helping you to get the most out of the food you eat.

Improved kidney function

Eating fewer animal-based foods puts less stress on your kidneys, as they have less acid and protein to filter. Even people who have had kidney failure can benefit from going meat-free, as it has been proven that dialysis patients who consume a plant-based diet have lower blood pressure, less protein in the urine, less inflammation, and make better use of their body's insulin.

Lowers blood sugar levels

Going green also helps to lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and is proven to help in the lowering of blood sugar. Plants contain properties that improve the performance of the pancreas by increasing insulin secretion, while simultaneously decreasing intestinal absorption of glucose.

Deciding to go meatless is definitely no easy matter, though, especially if you'd die for pork or beef. However, once you know other alternatives to meat, the decision generally becomes that much easier. If you are facing such a dilemma, here are some options for you to try that won't have you feeling deprived.

1. Tofu. This ingredient is so versatile that it features prominently on most vegan menus and has practically become synonymous with vegetarianism. Tofu can be fried, barbecued, scrambled, stewed or baked and contains over 20 grams of protein per serving.

2. Quinoa. This super rich protein dish has become increasingly popular over the past few years. It contains the nine essential amino acids and is gluten-free, which is another reason for its popularity.

3. Legumes. A bowl of lentil soup or stew will keep you full for a long time and will also give you a good dose of protein. Legumes generally include beans and peas such as black beans, kidney beans, split peas, chick peas and soybeans, which can give anywhere from between 14 to 29 grams of protein per cup when cooked.

4. Ackee. This is a fruit which needs no introduction, and is a great alternative to meat. Although ackee and codfish is the national dish, you can bypass the fish and add your choice of vegetables such as tomatoes, sweet peppers, onions and okra. For those who love to eat patties, ackee is also a great substitute for beef.

5. Tuna. For those who are not vegans, tuna is a very versatile substitute for meat and is a rich source of protein. A tuna sandwich for lunch or with salad for dinner is very filling and will flood your body with a number of vitamins and essential minerals.

6. Veggie burger. It might seem very hard to eat out as a non-meat eater, but fast food restaurants are actually coming to the realisation that there are many consumers who don't want to touch meat with a long stick. One of the options that is now being made available is veggie burgers, which are great alternatives for those who don't want to seem too deprived owing to their decision. Even if it's not on the menu, ask and you just might be surprised that they have it in stock.

7.Vegetable mince. This is readily available and can be used to prepare sumptuous dishes for lunch or dinner. You can use it to make your meatloaf or your patties or cook along with corn or other mixed vegetables to go along with traditional staples such as rice or potatoes.

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