When considering making the switch to a plant based diet all of a sudden terms like ‘becoming vegetarian’, ‘turning vegetarian’, ‘going vegetarian’ and ‘transitioning to vegetarianism’ are thrown about. For most people, it’s a pretty easy process once you commit to trying it. It’s a rewarding journey that re-invigorates an interest in food and gives a much keener awareness of what you’re eating.
Being a vegetarian these days is well-catered for in the majority of circumstances in New Zealand. There’s a superb array of vegetarian / vegan dining options, a wide range of vegetarian / vegan products and abundant information to help consumers to make educated choices.
A key perspective for wanna-be vegetarians is that you are not diminishing your lifestyle by taking something away, you’re actually enhancing your daily life with alternate choices you can feel great about. New vegetarians tend to get on a bit of a mental high and can get quite evangelistic about their new lifestyle. Keep in mind that some entrenched meat-eaters will push back hard, so there can be some heated discussions when these opposing views collide. You can choose to fly under the radar if you don’t want to have these types of conversations, whereas other people enjoy the opportunity to challenge people’s “conventional” thinking.
What Is Vegetarianism?
A vegetarian diet consists of avoiding foods that contain meat, fish and a range of other animal products. This includes avoiding any form of chicken, turkey, fish, pork, beef and lamb and the flesh of any animal. However, for some the lines do blur a little when it comes to things like eggs and dairy products, vegetarianism is a very personal choice – some vegetarians will happily consume these products while others will not.
Often considered a purer form of vegetarianism, a vegan diet excludes all animal products, by-products and animal product derivatives, not just from your diet but also as part of a larger lifestyle choice (e.g. leather shoes). The term ‘veg’ has become a popular way to express the vegetarian and vegan continuum, as well as ‘plant-based diet’.
How Common Is Vegetarianism In New Zealand?
New Zealand has seen a rise in vegetarianism over recent years, a newly-released study from the team at Roy Morgan Research indicates more than one in ten New Zealanders favour a plant-based diet (10.3%), up from 8.1% in a previous study four years earlier.
More prevalent in those under the age of 34, the study also discovered higher numbers of men were making the switch, with 9.3 % identifying as vegetarian, up from 5.7 % per cent. For women the figure remained fairly steady only up 1 % to 11.3 %.
Check out these Great Veg Documentaries for further information about why vegetarianism is becoming more common.
What Are The Benefits Of A Vegetarian Diet?
The number of people choosing vegetarianism is ever increasing as more people find motivation in the potential benefits for not only personal health, but animal welfare and the wider environmental impacts.
For many vegetarians the most rewarding benefit is not contributing to animal cruelty. Factory farming and intensive livestock management along with slaughterhouse horror stories are widespread across the media, with many people sickened by the treatment these animal receive in order to end up on our plate.
Reducing the impact on the environment and our ecosystems is another substantive benefit that drives many vegetarians. The intensive livestock industry is a major player in the strain on our natural environment. Water pollution, increased greenhouse gases and loss of biodiversity are just some of the detrimental effects to consider when looking in to the global production of meat. Each day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves 4,160 litres of water, 20 kilograms of grain, 2.7 square metres of forested land, 9 kilograms of CO2 equivalent and one animal’s life.
Along with environmental and animal cruelty motivators, many people experience health benefits when turning to a plant-based diet. Depending on external factors and actual dietary intake, vegetarians can have lower rates of obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, lower cholesterol and less incidence of high blood pressure along with many other health benefits. However, it is a misconception that just because you are a vegetarian you are suddenly healthy. Just like any diet, it is possible to be an unhealthy vegetarian living on foods high in sugar and low in nutritional value.
How Do You Go About Becoming A Vegetarian?
While some decide in an instant to immediately eliminate all meat from their diet, others may decide to gradually adjust their diets one step at a time. Dropping meat from your plate doesn’t have to be hard, keep it simple and invest some time in a bit of recipe investigation before meal time.
Having meat-free meals once or twice a week is a great place to start, allowing you to gradually build up some reliable alternatives to the usual meat-based dishes. View a great selection of vegetarian and vegan meal ideas, desserts and snacks to get you started.
Things To Look Out For In A Vegetarian Diet
Variety is the key to any successful healthy eating plan, vegetarianism is no different. However, there are a few key nutrients to keep an eye on when adjusting to a purely plant-based diet.
Protein is the big worry for many newbies, adequate amounts of protein are required for the body’s growth and repair functions. Protein helps in the formation of muscles, nails, hair, skin and internal organs and is made up of 20 amino acids, of which our body makes some – the rest it has to obtain from foods. Contrary to popular belief, protein levels are not hard to maintain on a well-balanced vegetarian diet.
Omega 3 Fats
Important for brain function and a healthy nervous system, Omega 3 fats are commonly thought of as only sourced from oily fish, however long chain Omega 3 fatty acids (sometimes referred to as ALA, DHA and EPA) are also made by our bodies. In order to maximize the body’s production of Omega 3 fatty acids it is important to include good sources of alpha-linolenic acid in the vegetarian diet. Alpha-linolenic acid can be found in flaxseed, canola, tofu, chia seeds, avocados, walnuts, algae capsules, soybeans and their oils.
Iron is needed to produce haemoglobin in our blood which helps carry oxygen around the body. It is essential for optimal health and is particularly tied in to energy levels within the body. Absorption of iron during meals can be enhanced by the addition of Vitamin C rich foods like citrus fruit or juices, dark green leafy vegetables, tomatoes or broccoli. Also it pays to avoid drinking regular tea or coffee with meals as the tannins can interfere with iron absorption.
B12 is necessary for red blood cell production, maintaining nerve cell health and the formation of genetic material. It has been established that adequate levels of B12 are difficult to maintain on a purely plant-based diet. Keep an eye out for vegetarian foods that are fortified with B12 but it’s usually best to consider a specialist B12 supplement. Vegan B12 sources are derived from bacteria or algae. Some people point to the use of a B12 supplement as an inherent flaw in a plant-based diet, despite the reality that the global nutrition and supplement industry is worth over USD$100 billion per year. Veg people are certainly not alone in their use of supplements.
Popular Vegetarian Substitutes In New Zealand
- Texturised vegetable protein
- Beans and legumes
- Packaged egg replacer
- Mashed banana or pureed apple
- Cornflour or arrowroot powder
- Baking soda and vinegar
- Chia seeds
- Silken tofu
- Ground flaxseed
- Soy milk
- Rice milk
- Coconut milk
- Almond and other nut milks
- Soy or nut based non-dairy spreads
- Soy or coconut yogurt
- Soy, almond or coconut based ice creams
Whether you’re a complete newbie to the concept of vegetarianism, busy researching its potential or currently buried in a pile of vegetarian cookbooks, going vegetarian is about making positive lifestyle changes not only for your own benefit but the benefit of our planet and its inhabitants. Check out more information on vegetarianism in New Zealand, recipes, products, stores and restaurants.
The list of popular substitutes for meat, are they a nutritional substitute? i.e is beetroot and eggplant a protein, vitamin, mineral replacement for meat? Or just a popular meal base?