This guest post is by Jennifer Morris. She has worked as a writer for a number of health care businesses for over three years, and is well versed in health, nutrition and fitness writing. Her work includes the promotion of a healthy lifestyle mixing diet, exercise and improved knowledge of the body. This also involves the promotion of fitness regimes and natural dietary alternatives ahead of early adoption of drug treatment programs which is an important message for all ethical healthcare businesses to embrace.
To someone who likes to eat meat with their main meals, hearing you don’t eat it every day or even every week comes as a bit of a shock. Questions such as “So what do you do for protein then?” or “Aren’t you anemic?” often follow. It’s still a misconception that meat has to be included within the diet regularly to achieve the right balance of nutrients, but as anyone who avoids meat or likes to limit their intake knows, this just isn’t the case. All the components that meat provides can be sourced from other foods. Here we take a look at good alternatives to meat to supply the nutrients that it is rich in.
This is one of the easiest nutrients to find alternatives to. You don’t often find vegetarians or even vegans for that matter who are lacking in protein; mainly because we don’t need anything like as much protein as most people in the United States consume – it’s just less than 0.5g of protein per pound of body weight, so if you weigh in at 130lb, that’s only 59g of protein daily . Besides the obvious choices – fish, eggs and low fat dairy produce – there are plenty of plant-based proteins to choose from. Peas, beans and lentils make an excellent substitute in a range of dishes, from stews and curries to soups and pasta meals; they can either completely or partly replace the meat. Soya beans are a particularly good source of plant protein, as like that from animal sources they are considered complete, so contain all of the essential amino acids – these are the building blocks of proteins that the body can’t manufacture on its own. Instead of the beans, you can use tofu or soya alternatives to dairy produce; just make sure with the latter you choose a brand that is fortified with calcium and vitamins, so it matches the nutritional profile of dairy milks. Nuts and seeds are another great option, which can be added to cereal, yogurt, salads and stir fries; alternatively enjoy a small handful as a nutritious snack. Many people also don’t realize wholegrains such as oats, granary bread, wholewheat pasta and brown rice make a small, but useful contribution to our protein intake; ideally we should try to opt for these types of carbohydrate at each mealtime.
It’s true that the iron provided by meat is the form that is easiest for the body to absorb, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t make use of other forms of iron in the diet. If you eat eggs, these are another source of iron. However, if you avoid all animal produce, you can still consume your fair share of this important mineral that helps to maintain healthy red blood cells. Pulses, nuts, dried fruit, green leafy vegetables and tofu are all good natural sources, but many breakfast cereals also have iron added to them, which makes them the richest source for vegetarians and vegans. As the iron in these foods is harder for the body to take up, we can give it a helping hand in two ways. Firstly, having a source of vitamin C at each meal helps the uptake of iron; citrus fruit, berries, kiwis, tomatoes, peppers and green vegetables are great sources. The other thing we can do is to avoid drinking tea and coffee near mealtimes, as components of these otherwise stop iron being absorbed as readily.
Although meat is the richest source of zinc, other foods that provide significant amounts are fish, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, pulses, nuts and oats. Zinc mightn’t be as well known as iron, but it is important for a healthy immune system, wound healing, production of new body tissues and to support fertility. A substance known as phytate which is present in pulses and wholegrains can impair zinc uptake by the body, but well soaking these foods can make the zinc more available.
If you eat any animal produce you should be able to meet your body’s requirements for this vitamin, which is needed for healthy nerves and red blood cells; research also shows it can help to protect you from heart disease. However, if you’re vegan it’s almost impossible to obtain enough from the diet naturally, but a number of foods that you might already eat have vitamin B12 added to them; these include breakfast cereals, dairy-free alternatives to milk and yeast extracts.
A word about supplements
While it should be possible to meet all your body’s needs through a diet where you restrict or avoid meat, there are a few occasions where you might require some help in the form of supplements. If appetite is poor or your body has increased protein requirements – either through illness or if you are an athlete – additional protein may be needed; Whey Protein is a good option if you include dairy produce or if you avoid these, Soya Protein supplements are available. Iron needs increase during pregnancy, but many pre-natal supplements contain iron to support you both; regular blood tests will be taken to indicate whether you need a prescription of high strength iron tablets. If you develop pernicious anemia due to inadequate vitamin B12 and this is due to your dietary intake, a supplement containing this vitamin will help. However, if a blood test reveals this is the result of your body not absorbing it properly, you will need injections of vitamin B12 every three months. You could always take a multivitamin and mineral as a safety net, but if you are conscious enough to restrict your meat intake for health reasons, you are probably already obtaining a balanced diet and therefore nutrient intake as it is.