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 like there is some sort of physical mutation in progress. Resist the urge to panic – removing animals from you diet isn’t going to result in anything nearly so drastic.
The good news is being a vegetarian these days is not only more widely accepted, but fairly well catered for in the majority of circumstances in New Zealand. There are loads of great vegetarian dining options many influenced by international flavours, a wide range of vegetarian and vegan products both animal-product free and animal-cruelty free, and more information than ever to help people make well educated choices.
What Is Vegetarianism?
Traditionally a vegetarian diet consists of avoiding all foods that are made from animals or contain animal products. This includes avoiding any form of chicken, turkey, fish, pork and red meats like beef and lamb and the flesh of any other 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 stricter form of vegetarianism, the vegan diet firms up the rules a little if you like and excludes all animal products, by products and animal product derivatives, usually not just from ones diet but also as part of a larger lifestyle choice.
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 no meat diet (10.3%), up from 8.1% in a previous study four years earlier.
More common 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 %.
Want to understand a bit better why so many people are choosing vegetarian eating habits? Take a look at these Great Veg Documentaries.
What Are The Benefits Of A Vegetarian Diet?
The number of people choosing vegetarianism is ever increasing as more and 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 any further animal cruelty. Factory farming and intensive livestock management along with slaughter house 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 huge benefit that drives many vegetarians. The intensive livestock industry is a major player in the strain on our natural environment and the health of this planet as a whole. It is said that approximately twice as much land is used to farm livestock like cattle and pigs than is used to grow crops, with a third of all crops harvested fed back to the animals. 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. A quick internet search is all it takes to learn more about the impact of reducing meat consumption on this planet.
Along with environmental and animal cruelty motivators many people experience health benefits when turning to a purely 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 common misconception that just because you are a vegetarian you are suddenly healthy. Just like any diet it is possible to be a completely 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 meats from their diet, other 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 to avoid the temptation of reverting back to meat based choices.
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. See here for 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.
Popular Vegetarian Substitutes In New Zealand
- Texturized 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 the whole planet and its inhabitants. For more information on vegetarianism in New Zealand, vegetarian recipes, products and stores or vegetarian restaurants ideas see the Vegetarians New Zealand website.
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