A common New Year’s resolution in the UK is to eat a healthier diet – and one simple way to achieve this is to eat less meat.
Reducing meat consumption – or eating a vegetarian or vegan diet – has become much more popular in recent years. Research by Ipsos in 2022 found that 46% of British people aged 16-75 were considering reducing their intake of animal products.
There are several reasons why people choose to eat less meat. Many do so for ethical reasons, because they are concerned about animal welfare.
Health is another reason. According to the Vegan Society’s Veganuary campaign – more details below – many people who go vegan for the month of January report an improvement in their health, energy and vitality. The benefits range from weight loss to better sleep.
Changing to a vegetarian or vegan diet often means you eat more fruit and vegetables. This can help with weight management, as fruit and veg is high in fibre, low in fat, and helps make you feel full with fewer calories.
Fruit and vegetables are also packed with nutrients that are essential for good health, helping to strengthen the immune system, improve memory and prevent the risk of illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.
Helping to protect the environment is another key reason why some people choose to eat less meat. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that livestock production is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse emissions, and produces high amounts of methane – one of the most damaging greenhouse gases.
Meat production is also a major cause of global deforestation – with natural forests cleared to make room for grazing pastures – and it uses vast amounts of water.
Many of us are concerned about rising food prices, and this is another reason why people might choose to reduce how much meat they eat.
According to moneysavingexpert. com, vegetarian and vegan diets can help save money – in fact you could cut your food bill by as much as 60% by cooking your favourite meals using plant-based alternatives. Plant-based sources of protein, such as pulses, beans or veggie mince, tend to be cheaper than meat.
However, some plant-based alternatives – almond or oat milk, for example – can be more expensive. Supermarkets often offer these at a discounted price, though – so stock up on long-life products when they’re less expensive.
Try meat-free Monday
If you don’t want to give up meat, but are concerned about the environment and want to save some money, eating one or two vegetarian meals each week is a good compromise.
The Meat Free Monday campaign (www.meatfree mondays.com) encourages people to try skipping meat for one day a week (it doesn’t have to be a Monday). The website is an excellent resource for people who are new to vegetarian meals, with lots of recipe suggestions.
One reason sometimes given for not eating vegetarian dishes is that they can be complicated and time-consuming to prepare. But this needn’t be the case.
Many favourite meat-based dishes – such as lasagne, moussaka, or curry – can be adapted easily.
Pasta is a quick and easy vegetarian option, and can be served with all sorts of tasty toppings. For the simplest of speedy meals, stir a jar of pesto into hot pasta, top with grated parmesan and serve with a mixed salad. Or stir in crumbled Stilton cheese along with leeks sautéd in olive oil.
Veggie mince, such as Quorn, can be used whenever a recipe calls for minced beef. Spaghetti bolognaise, lasagne, chilli and shepherd’s pie can be all be made with a meat-free alternative. If cost is an issue, substitute half of the mince for cheaper ingredients such as grated carrots or red lentils.
Pulses and grains – dried or tinned – are a cheap source of protein and can be used in all sorts of dishes. Lentils add flavour and colour to soups, and chickpeas and butter beans can be added to stews and casseroles. When using dried beans and pulses, follow the cooking instructions on the packet carefully; some need to be soaked before using.
For a quick meat-free lunch or supper, try stuffed peppers. Halve one red and one yellow pepper lengthwise, remove the stalk and seeds and fill with a mixture of cooked rice, grated cheese and toasted pine nuts. Sprinkle a little extra grated cheese on top and bake at 180°C for 20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and golden. Serve with a green salad and crusty bread.
If you want to try a vegan diet, January is a good month to give it a go, with the Veganuary campaign offering support, advice and encouragement at www.veganuary.com.
The Veganuary campaign began in 2014, when 3,300 participants pledged to eliminate meat, fish, dairy and eggs from their diets for a whole month.
In 2022, 620,000 people signed up for the challenge. Now veganism has gone from niche to mainstream, with new restaurants and brands springing up across the country, and vegan options now a mainstay on many restaurant menus.
Protein is essential for health – especially to build and repair muscles – and many people think it’s only present in animal products. This is perhaps the most common misconception about veganism – but in fact you don’t have to consume meat in order to ensure you get enough protein in your diet.
Nuts, beans, and pulses such as lentils are all excellent sources of protein. You’ll also find it in grains such as brown rice and quinoa.
Many vegetables are good sources of protein too – especially greens such as kale, broccoli, and peas.
So, as an example, peanut butter on wholemeal toast for breakfast, a hummus and falafel wrap for lunch, and a shepherd’s pie made with veggie mince and served with green vegetables for dinner would easily provide enough protein for the average active adult.
Participants can sign up for free at www.veganuary.com/ register. You are then supported with emails, through social media, and the website – which is full of helpful resources such as recipes, nutritional advice and meal plans.
Some participants even choose to use the month to raise money for good causes – a fantastic, positive way to start the New Year!