Slim down and save the world! Going veggie could change the planet – and your body – for the better
Fad diets come and go, but when it comes to a body overhaul with added benefits, there’s one eating trend that’s here to stay. Eating a plant-based diet is practically guaranteed to help downsize your waistline and upsize your lifespan, save you money and do the planet a favour! So put down that burger and find out just what embracing a meat-free lifestyle could do for you!
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Making veggies the star of your plate helps to slash your risk of heart disease by 32 per cent, say scientists at the University of Oxford. Vegetarians also outlive their carnivore counterparts by almost a decade according to the latest statistics from Loma Linda University in California. And then there’s ethical and environmental considerations to factor in. According to The Vegetarian Society, the livestock industry uses massive amounts of land, water and fossil fuels, while producing 18 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock production is also responsible for a mega 70 per cent of Amazon deforestation while agricultural products account for 73 per cent of the total water footprint.
But, there is a downside to eating as nature intended. Switching to a mainly vegetarian diet means you could miss out on essential nutrients if you’re not taking care to beef up meals with the right foods, so get nutrient-savvy with our guide to what you need and why.
Build meals around pulses, nuts, seeds, quinoa and eggs to ensure you get all the essential amino acids which make up the building blocks of protein into your diet.
If you don’t get enough: You may feel more hungry than usual, tired and struggle to recover from a workout.
Red meat is a great source of iron, but it’s not the only one! Make friends with dark green leafy vegetables like Swiss chard, spinach and kale, as well as beans and seeds to get your iron fix. To increase your body’s absorption of this mineral, combine iron-rich foods with vitamin C. Try a portion of sautéed spinach with grilled tomato for a great iron-enhancing side dish.
If you don’t get enough: You may feel fatigued, dizzy or nauseous.
It’s hard to find vitamin B12 in plant-based foods, so the best way to get your daily intake is through supplements and fortified foods such as sugar-free breakfast cereals or dairy-free milk that state they contain added B12.
If you don’t get enough: You may be lacking in energy and suffer memory loss or blurred vision.
Omega-3 and 6 essential fatty acids play important roles in brain, skin and heart health. Make sure you get your omegas by nibbling on raw nuts and seeds such as pumpkin seeds, walnuts and almonds, and dress salads with linseed or avocado oil.
If you don’t get enough: You may become forgetful, your blood pressure and cholesterol levels may be elevated and your skin, hair and nails may become dry and brittle.
Easy ways to go meat-free
Thinking about making the switch? Becoming a healthy vegetarian doesn’t mean living on celery sticks and lentils. Eating fresh, seasonal food that’s simple to prepare yet packed with flavour can be just as exciting as meaty meals, and far healthier. ‘Vegetarian food is tasty, varied and definitely not the poor relation to meat-based dishes,’ says Jane Montgomery, co-author of /The Vegetarian Pantry/ (£16.99, Ryland Peters & Small).
Not sure where to start? Whether you’re already a vegetarian or simply want to include more veggie goodness on your plate, check out these delicious recipes from /The Vegetarian Pantry/.
Honey and apricot breakfast muffins
Try it because: These muffins are a fantastic grab-and-go midweek breakfast and contain lots of fruit, nuts and fibre to keep your energy levels high.
200g plain flower
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
2½tsp baking powder
2tsp mixed spice
50g chopped dried apricots
50g pecan nuts, chopped
100g porridge oats
2 bananas (preferably soft)
2 unpeeled apples, grated
5tbsp vegetable oil
1tsp vanilla extract
100g light brown sugar
1 Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Add the bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and mixed/apple pie spice and stir to combine. Add the dried apricots, pecans and oats to the flour mixture together with the sultanas/golden raisins and set aside.
2 In a separate bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. Add the apples, eggs, oil, vanilla extract, honey and milk and stir to combine. Add the sugar and stir again.
3 Fill the muffin cases two thirds full and top with chopped pecans for added texture. Bake in the top half of a preheated oven for approximately 30-40 minutes until the muffins are well risen, golden and springy to touch. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
Chilled mint and cucumber soup
Try it because: This healthy, refreshing soup is perfect for a warm spring day and it’s packed with heart-helping vitamin K. The Parmesan crisps add extra texture but are optional.
6 English cucumbers, peeled, cored, and flesh chopped into chunks
A small handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped
460ml crème fraîche or sour cream
Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon and freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
11⁄2 garlic cloves, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable and lentil moussaka
Try it because: Packed with flavour, this satisfying dish makes a welcome change from lasagne. It can be made ahead of time and is always a crowd pleaser.
2 aubergines, sliced lengthways
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
120ml white wine
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1⁄2 courgette, finely chopped
A handful of dill, finely chopped
1tsp dried oregano
1tsp ground cinnamon
100g red lentils
400g can chopped plum tomatoes
600g potatoes, peeled and sliced
400g plain yoghurt
Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
Freshly grated nutmeg
60g crumbled feta cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Sprinkle the aubergine with salt and 2 tablespoons of olive oil and bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until soft and starting to brown.
2 Meanwhile, put the onion in a large saucepan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of water. Cover and cook over low heat for 5-10 minutes until the onion softens without taking on any colour. Take off the lid, add the wine and boil over high heat until the wine has reduced by half. Add the carrot, bell pepper, courgette, dill, oregano and cinnamon and fry until they turn golden brown. Add the lentils and tomatoes, along with 1 cup of water and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
3 Fry the potatoes in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil until they are golden on either side and the potato has started to soften. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.
4 To assemble the moussaka, lay half of the aubergine on the bottom of an ovenproof dish, cover with half of the lentil mixture and top with half of the potatoes. Repeat.
5 To make the topping, whisk the yoghurt with the eggs, lemon, nutmeg and half of the feta. Pour on top of the moussaka and sprinkle the top with the remaining crumbled feta. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes until the top is golden brown. Serve hot or at room temperature with a green salad.
Beetroot, celeriac and apple remoulade
Try it because: It’s ideal as a healthy light lunch or snack.
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
5tbsp fresh mayonnaise
2 apples, skin on, grated
¼ celeriac, peeled and grated
1 garlic clove, crushed
2tsp fresh dill, finely chopped plus a few extra sprigs to serve
2tsp Dijon mustard
1tsp horseradish cream
2 small raw beetroots, peeled and grated
A handful of walnuts (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Goat’s cheese toast
1 crusty baguette
100g goat’s cheese
A drizzle of olive oil
1 To make the remoulade, put the lemon zest and the juice in a small bowl with the mayonnaise. Add the remaining lemon juice to a bowl of cold water and put the apple and celeriac in the water so that it doesn’t discolour.
2 Add the garlic, dill, mustard and horseradish cream to the mayonnaise and season to taste with salt and pepper. Drain the celeriac and apple and stir it through the mayonnaise mixture, together with the grated beetroot.
3 To make the goat’s cheese toasts, preheat the grill to hot. Cut the baguette into slices on an angle, spread one side with the goat cheese, then drizzle with olive oil. Toast under the grill until warm and golden.
4 Spoon the remoulade into a serving bowl. Scatter over it some chopped walnuts and sprigs of dill and serve with the warm goat cheese toasts on the side