If you’re a vegetarian, you probably have people asking you left and right about where you get your protein. They have the best intentions, but are innocently unaware of the fact that there are so many other ways to consume healthy amounts of protein without grilling up a ribeye or chicken breast at every meal.
Aside from that, if you’re a vegetarian or even just a conscious consumer when it comes to food, you probably know that a meat-based diet has a high carbon footprint and is not the most sustainable way to eat when considering the environment. With the high cost of meat production, the amount of resources used, the amount of space needed to maintain animals, and overconsumption in the western world, meat is becoming a worse and worse choice if you want to maintain an environmentally-friendly diet.
Apart from the environmental viewpoint, the increase in meat consumption in the western world combined with the increase in non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and obesity, makes for a hefty conclusion that red meat products are not the healthiest source of protein. The World Cancer Research Fund has also gathered enough evidence to connect diets high in red meat with cancer.
According to an article published by the Medical Journal of Australia, a plant-based diet is a healthier way to nourish your body and the environment. With a billion people on the planet going to bed hungry every night, crops offer higher security in terms of future food production for the growing population. And with 63% of deaths around the world caused by non-communicable diseases, a diet rich in veggies isn’t going to hurt public health.
So how is it that vegetarian diets meet standard dietary needs? Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t much to be concerned about when it comes to vegetarians not getting enough protein, zinc, or iron. To meet protein needs in a vegetarian diet, the main goal is to regularly eat a variety of legumes, leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. The amino acids our bodies store complement dietary protein, so as long as we’re getting a good and equal amount of the plant-based food groups, our bodies should balance themselves out and maintain a steady stream of protein.
As far as concern regarding iron in vegetarian diets, those with a well-balanced diet are apparently at no greater risk from anemia or iron deficiency than meat eaters. As far as zinc goes, vegetarians will adapt to lower zinc levels over time with increased retention and absorption. Again, variety is key and the more diverse foods we eat, the better our bodies will become at absorbing proper amounts of nutrients and using them efficiently.
If you look at the diets of Asian and Mediterranean countries, food choices are higher in plant-based ingredients and lower in meat and processed foods. They also offer a wide variety of flavors and combinations, since plants are so diverse and easily combined.
While you may not want to go vegetarian because you’re worried there won’t be anything good to eat, you may be surprised by the recipes and new discoveries you’ll make. If we want to help maintain a healthy population and environment, a plant-based diet is a very good option.