Have you ever wondered what happens to your body when you stop eating meat?
This article isn’t intended to make a case against meat consumption, moreover, consuming meat can be very healthy and form part of a well-structured diet – obviously, if we stick to healthy unprocessed or processed meats.
This article just wants to make it known that exactly the same thing can also happen without the consumption of meat, we can have a healthy and balanced diet.
Do you have to eat meat?
There are many people who defend that you do, that it is necessary, as it provides a protein of high biological value, with its complete aminogram, and also has iron (haem iron, the good kind), B12, zinc…
What’s true in all of this?
It is now known, and demonstrated by many studies, that we can obtain high biological value protein from plant foods.
The following are examples:
- Legumes (chickpeas, beans… from soy and its processes (tofu, textured soy…);
- Supplements such as protein isolates (whether from soy, peas, hemp…);
- Some nuts.
And when mixing some legumes with cereals we also get a complete protein, as for example the mixture of rice, limiting in lysine, with lentils, limiting in methionine, and no, you don’t have to mix them in the same meal.
Reasons to stop eating meat
This section is material for a post itself, and there might be different reasons for each vegetarian, so I’ll summarise the most common or referenced
Livestock are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all modes of transport combined.
Livestock generates 65% of the nitrous oxide in the world, with an enormous potential for global warming, and which is also responsible for 37% of the methane produced by human activity, in addition to 64% of ammonia, a fundamental part of the famous acid rain.
Out of solidarity
Meat production is very inefficient: one kilo of protein from beans requires eighteen times less land, ten times less water, nine times less fuel, twelve times less fertiliser and ten times less pesticides than for one kilo from meat.
If we compare beans with chicken or eggs instead of beef, they are still six times more efficient on average.
All this endorses the first cause, the environmental factor, but I’m including it under the banner of solidarity because we inhabit a planet where around 800 million people do not have sufficient access to food (FAO data from 2014) while the rest suffer from overeating.
And now the most popular and “logical” reason.
I won’t go into detail here, usually if someone wants information they can find it easily, the rest of us are satisfied (I have done it for a long time) with not knowing, or rather, not wanting to know.
If you want to investigate more of this world, go to the PETA or Animal Equality website, but if you think you’ll find videos of happy animals grazing in green pastures or pecking corn grains in beautiful corrals, forget it.
If we take into account that more than 50 million pigs are slaughtered in Spain every year (more than there are inhabitants), why do we not go out on the road and see meadows full of pigs, and the cows, and the chickens.
And this is due to the slaughter that these animals suffer. In the end, the thought that we killed them is not what makes me sad, it makes me even sadder to think that they have a life full of suffering and exploitation, many of them spending a large part of their lives without even being able to move.
That said, if you want information, take the step, although I’m telling you now that it won’t be easy.
At this point I imagine that many of you are thinking that I’ve left out one of the most important reasons for becoming a vegetarian – health – and no, I haven’t.
As I said at the beginning, and I maintain, eating meat or drinking dairy products or eating eggs is not bad for your health, not as long as they are quality foods and we avoid processed or ultra-processed foods.
What happens if I stop eating meat?
We’re going to look in depth at what happens and what you should bear in mind if you decide to stop eating meat:
What happens with the iron?
Of the studies that we’ve looked at, all have concluded that there is no greater risk of anaemia in vegetarians than in the rest of the population, although it is true that the former did have somewhat lower ferritin.
At first sight it may seem a clear disadvantage, but if we understand the body as an almost perfect adaptation machine we can see that the metabolism of iron usually adapts to its supple, and that when the iron deposits are lower the body absorbs more to avoid this deficiency.
Here are also some tips to consider for vegetarians who may have an iron deficiency:
- Avoid tea tannins right after meals.
- Increase your vitamin C intake, as this favours its absorption.
What about B12?
We’ve already talked about B12, but it never hurts to go over it again, and if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you really should supplement yourself with this vitamin, it’s something very simple to do, economical and safe.
This is one of the main excuses used by people who are against vegetarian diets, “it can’t be that healthy if you have to supplement”, and it would be true if supplementing was a problem.
No one attacks a diet when someone takes their cholesterol pill, or to regulate sugar, or uric acid, or…but if you supplement with B12, your diet has a problem.
If you don’t do it directly, the animals you eat do, because this vitamin is of bacterial origin, and unless your meat is all grass fed, they are more than likely to eat supplementary feeds to avoid the deficit caused by industrial feeds.
What about zinc?
About zinc…let’s be brief 🙂 something similar to iron happens. Yes, a vegetarian diet can be lower in zinc, but our body will adapt and be more efficient in absorbing it.
Where do we find zinc in a vegetarian diet? In wholemeal cereals, tofu (rich in calcium, by the way), tempeh, legumes, nuts…
It’s also possible to find supplements like this Zinc from HSN.
Other things to consider
And to finish we can talk about carnitine, taurine and creatine.
The latter is often supplemented by strength athletes.
And note, vegetarians are likely to obtain greater benefits from its use as eating a plant based diet is usually is more deficient in these amino acids, though as they are not essential (the body is capable of synthesising them from other amino acids like lysine or cysteine) it doesn’t lead to problems.
What is the benefit of not eating meat?
In reality, the benefit of not eating meat would be more in terms of ethics or empathy for other living beings, and as we have seen also, for the good of the planet.
On a health level, we wouldn’t gain any advantage, as long as the meat we eat is of good quality.
What to eat if we’re not eating meat?
We have more meat-free option than ever, from the most typical like tofu, tempeh, textured soy, seitan… to the most “modern” like vegetable burgers, heura and multiple processed soy-based or vegetable-based proteins like peas, and, if you’re a vegetarian, many foods based on egg or egg whites and dairy.
One of the biggest mistakes that used to be made when a person stopped eating meat was to lower their intake of this macronutrient too much.
To finish the post, and by way of conclusion, I would like to comment on different options for replacing meat, which even if you don’t intend to stop consuming it completely can be useful for starting to reduce its consumption.
Tofu and tempeh
To replace beef or similar, we have tofu or tempeh, which are slightly higher in fat. Tofu usually has an average of 10 to 15g of protein per 100g and a fat content of about 5g, though this varies depending on the tofu and how firm it is.
To replace chicken or similar, the first option, if you are not coeliac, of course, is seitan, and although it doesn’t provide a particularly interesting protein, it is high in it, and combined with other foods can be particularly interesting.
Another option is textured soy, with a good amount of protein, about 25g per 100, and very low in fat, but relatively high in carbohydrates, about 10/15g per 100.
- View a recipe for Tofu with Barbecue sauce by clicking here.
- Do you know about Vegan Omega 3? If you want to find out about it, visit this post.