Next time you’re tempted to reach for a chop consider going for veg instead. It’s better for you – and for the planet.
If you're a meat-lover, there’s nothing quite like tucking into a juicy steak or breathing in the heady aroma of boerewors sizzling on the braai. But even the most die hard meat-eater is finding it harder and harder to ignore the facts: the production of meat is affecting our poor, beleaguered planet. Research shows livestock is responsible for about 14,5% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 70% of global deforestation takes place in order to grow animal feed.
Little wonder that Veganuary – a movement that encourages eating plantbased foods in the first month of the year – is growing in popularity. In the UK alone, 250 000 people signed up for the largely meat-free month last year. The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health has determined that “significant dietary shifts must take place by 2050”.
“Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by 50%,” the panel of experts say. The world is taking note: by the end of last year, plant-based diets were one of the top global food trends.
“Last year saw a substantial increase in plant-based diets,” says Cindy Chin, a dietician at Woolworths. “That means vegetables and plant products are no longer just side dishes but the main meal.” “If everyone followed a plant-based diet, there would be more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet,” says Donovan Will, director of food awareness organisation ProVeg South Africa.
Many of us don’t want to go the whole hog and ditch meat entirely – but if you’re keen to take things a bit further than Meatless Mondays or Veganuary, you’ll be doing the planet a favour.
So how do you do this while ensuring you still eat a properly balanced diet?
HOW TO GET STARTED
Cooking your own meals from scratch using fresh ingredients is the most basic solution, says Colleen Mollentze of the Vegan Society of South Africa. “Plant based foods need not be expensive or exotic like quinoa or goji berries,” she adds. “All the vegetables we grew up with such as spinach, pumpkin and squash are nutritious and healthy. Beans and lentils are good protein sources and grains such as sorghum, maize and rice provide essential carbohydrates.
“Combining grains and pulses such as samp and beans is an excellent way to ensure the intake of a combination of amino acids – the building blocks of protein.”
She says meat substitutes such as Fry’s products (available in the frozen section at most supermarkets) and Linda McCartney’s vegetarian patties and sausages (available at Checkers) are great for convenience meals or to braai. Karen Fletcher, co-founder of Cape Town-based pop-up restaurant Green & Vegan, says wholegrains, nuts and seeds are a great way to kickstart the journey. “Think smoothies and wholegrain cereals with fruit and nuts, or a lentil pasta with basil pesto or a thick veggie stew,” she suggests.
Many supermarkets in major centres stock milk substitutes such as almond and soya milk as well as dairy-free cheeses made from nuts and soya proteins – so it’s possible to avoid animal protein entirely on some days.
One of the most common misconceptions about plant-based diets is that they are elitist and expensive, Fletcher says. But they don’t have to be: legumes such as beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils are inexpensive meat substitutes, as are grains such as rice and vegetables such as potatoes, onions and butternut. “A baked potato filled with a delicious chickpea mayo is no more expensive than regular tuna-mayo potato. It’s about making clever choices,” Fletcher says.
HOW TO PACK IN THE NUTRIENTS
The protein in animal products is complete protein but most plant-based protein isn’t complete because it doesn’t contain all the necessary amino acids.
A “full house” of amino acids is essential for tissue repair and nutrient absorption, and a deficiency can result in several health issues, including decreased immunity, digestive problems, fertility issues and slow growth in children. Zelda Pienaar, a Pretoria-based clinical dietitian, explains that by ensuring you combine different protein sources, each containing different amino acids, in your meals, it’s possible to get the right intake.
For example, many legumes don’t contain enough of the amino acid methionine, while many breakfast cereals don’t contain lysine. But if you eat a combination of these two foods, your body will get enough of both to form a complete protein. In other words, breakfast cereals and legumes complement one another.
Your daily diet should include
- Fortified breakfast cereals and wholegrains
- Legumes, soy products and beans
- Protein from two or more plant sources such as lentils, beans, nuts, soy and tofu
- Soy bean oil, canola oil, flaxseed and walnuts
DO I NEED TO TAKE A SUPPLEMENT?
Fletcher advises that if you eat a mainly plant-based diet you consider taking a vitamin supplement to boost your B3 and B12 as well as iron intake. Many experts also recommend taking an omega3 supplement as these fatty acids are tricky to get in a sufficient dose from plant-based foods.
Mollentze adds that moringa is emerging as a superfood. Leaves and pods are harvested from the moringa tree and ground up to make oils, powders and tea packed with nutrients such as iron, protein, vitamin B6, vitamin C and riboflavin.
IS A MORE PLANT-BASED DIET SAFE FOR KIDS?
Mollentze says children have relatively higher energy requirements than adults and require omega fatty acids, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C and iron in addition to vitamin B12.
You can incorporate more plantbased foods in your kids’ diet but you have to keep tabs on their nutrition and be creative to provide alternatives. For example, hummus, which is made from tahini and chickpeas, is a good source of protein and can be a delicious lunchbox snack if served with carrot sticks or crackers.
A good supplement for children, containing all the essential vitamins and omega fatty acids, is recommended by experts if you’re going to cut down on your family’s meat intake.
They look and taste like meat – but they aren’t. Whereas meatless sausages and burgers have been around for a while, new technology is helping to develop flavours that are so sophisticated many carnivores would have a hard time telling them apart from the real thing.
- Beyond Meat The American producer manufactures a variety of plant-based meat substitutes including mince, sausage, beef crumbles and its famous Beyond Burger patty, which it bills as the “world’s first plant-based burger that looks, cooks, and satisfies like beef without genetically modified organisms, soy or gluten”.These burgers are available at Woolworths and will set you back R129,99 for two patties.
- Impossible Foods The company is Beyond Meat’s competitor and produces plant-based meatless meat products such as Impossible Pork and Impossible Beef. According to vox. com, Impossible Foods has partnered with Burger King, which means its products could soon be on the franchise’s menu in SA.