A Vegetarian Balanced Diet Can Be as Good as a Meat-based Diet
By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD
Q: Is a vegetarian balanced diet better than eating meat?
A: Ultimately, a vegetarian balanced diet should follow the same healthy eating guidelines as a diet that contains meat. The Eatwell Plate by the Food Standards Agency shows the types and proportions of foods we should have for a well-balanced diet, regardless of whether or not we eat meat. In practice, this means having five portions of fruit and vegetables each day and basing meals on starchy, fibre-rich foods such as bread, potatoes, cereals, pasta and rice. We should also include some dairy products and choose alternatives to meat such as eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds. Plus, it’s still essential to cut down on the amount of fatty, sugary and salty foods eaten. For more information about healthy eating, visit www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/eatwell-plate.aspx
Q: Isn’t a vegetarian diet healthier than one that includes meat?
A: It is difficult to say whether a vegetarian balanced diet is preferable to eating meat. There’s still controversy over whether a vegetarians are actually any healthier than meat eaters According to the British Nutrition Foundation’s (BNF) Red Meat in the Diet report, vegetarians tend to be younger, lighter and less likely to smoke than meat eaters. They also tend to have lower intakes of protein, fat and saturates and higher intakes of carbohydrates, fibre, fruit, veg, magnesium, folate and vitamins B1, C and D than meat eaters. However, they are also more likely to be short on zinc and vitamins A, B12 and D. The BNF report also shows that both groups have similar death rates and so it is difficult to say categorically whether differences in nutrient intakes and lifestyles make vegetarians any more or less healthy than meat eaters.
Q: Isn’t meat fattening though?
A: It’s a myth that meat is ‘fattening’. After all, it’s virtually impossible to pick out just one food in someone’s diet – like meat – and prove that it has caused obesity. Ultimately, it’s an overall excess of calories and/or a lack of exercise that’s linked to the current obesity epidemic in the UK. Nevertheless, like all food, meat contains calories, with some varieties containing more than others. In general, meats with a higher fat content tend to have a higher calorie content. This means processed meats such as sausages and burgers, and fatty cuts of meat, such as belly pork, usually contain more calories than fresh, lean meat. For example, just two grilled pork sausages can contain around 235 calories and 18g fat and are gone in just a few mouthfuls.
However, fresh meat has got leaner than ever over the past few decades thanks to leaner animals being bred and improved butchery techniques that remove more fat. Today, lean lamb contains 8% fat, lean beef, 5% fat and lean pork, as little as 4% fat. Meanwhile, skinless chicken and turkey can contain just 1% fat. This means, a 120g grilled lean pork chop contains just 221 calories and 7.7g fat and a 130g grilled skinless chicken breast contains just 192 calories and 2.9g fat. It’s also worth remembering that white fish and shellfish are also really low in fat.
Furthermore, meat and fish may actually help in the fight against obesity thanks to their protein content. It’s now well-established that good intakes of protein improve the feeling of fullness at the end of a meal and so can help to prevent snacking later in the day. Ultimately, this helps to reduce calorie intakes, which in turn may boost weight loss.
So you see, a vegetarian balanced diet, if it is to be truly balanced, needs to replicate all the nutritional benefits of eating meat.
You can use the WLR food diary and database to monitor and balance your vegetarian diet. You'll also see how many calories and other nutrients you need and consume. Start a free trial here.
The Vegetarian Society http://www.vegsoc.org
Find out more about events, new recipes and veggie starter packs at: http://www.nationalvegetarianweek.org/
Recommended Vegetarian Diet Books: