Diet & Nutrition

Why cutting down on your meat intake could help your health

You may want to reconsider that steak after reading this ...

By Alex Lilly

Aussies may be famous for pies, snags and shrimps (alright prawns) on the barbie, but it turns out a lot of us are cutting down on our meat intake.

Research conducted by Roy Morgan found that between 2012 and 2016, the number of Aussie vegetarians and almost-vegetarians has risen from 1.7 million people (9.7 percent of the population) to almost 2.1 million (11.2 percent). And it's only on the rise.

But seeing as humans are technically omnivores, is there a down side to eating less meat?

Naturopathic nutritionist Teresa Mitchell-Paterson from Bowel Cancer Australia chats exclusively with Now To Love about why reducing your meat intake can actually do wonders for your health.

What are the benefits of a plant-based diet?

It's a fact that a plant-based diet has many health benefits, whether it's preventing weight gain or reducing the risk of heart conditions and type 2 diabetes.

"This is largely due to the fact that plant proteins have no cholesterol, less calories and saturated fat, and plant proteins provide cholesterol lowering plant fibres, blood glucose regulating starch, little to no fat, healthy plant chemicals, minerals and vitamins," says Teresa.

But what about protein? Glad you asked!

As meat is a complete protein and is very similar to the protein in our own bodies, it provides all the 'essential' amino acids compared to vegetables and legumes which may contain a little of some essentials amino acids and not enough of others. But that doesn't mean you can't get your protein fix without it.

"For centuries, humans have made delicious dishes that balance essential amino acids such as beans and corn, tofu and rice, rice and dahl and minestrone (wheat and red kidney beans)," says Teresa.

There are some great sources of complete plant proteins as well, such as tofu, tempeh, quinoa and Quorn®, a vegetarian meat-substitute made from mycoprotein (fermented fungus formed into a dough).

"There are some delicious health benefits if you are consuming plant based foods, and no need to be worried about eliminating meat if you are eating a sensible balanced diet," she adds.

WATCH: 11 foods you probably didn't even know are vegan.

What are some other benefits of reducing your meat intake?

It's not just your health that can benefit from eating more fruits, veggies and pulses.

"As people become more aware of the impact their diet and lifestyle choices can have, many are choosing to reduce or eliminate their consumption of meat. Specific reasons vary, but can include health benefits, cost, convenience, an interest in animal welfare or the environment."

Celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres, Liam Hemsworth, Miley Cyrus and Pamela Anderson all identify as vegetarian or vegan so it's not exactly unheard of.

Chow down on some corn like Mila.
Chow down on some corn like Mila.

What are some good meat-free meal ideas?

Before you start getting skeptical, it's not all salad leaves.

The recommended guidelines for adults tell us to aim for five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit every day, and it's not as hard or expensive as you may believe.

READ MORE: Why being a part-time vegetarian is good enough.

"An easy start is as simple as swapping a meat-based lunch with a nachos, Indian dahl or a bean burrito," says Teresa.

"Dinner meat dishes can be health boosted with delicious flavoured tofu in a stir fry, chickpeas and quinoa in a salad or you can cook up a storm with delicious bean or Quorn® based vegetarian spaghetti bolognese.

"Personally salads are my favourite as I can put, beans, nuts, seeds and several types of vegetables with a sensational olive oil and lemon herb based dressing. You will notice digestive health benefits even if you do this a couple times a week … who knows you may get to love it!"

Try mixing it up by going meat-free for a few days.
Try mixing it up by going meat-free for a few days.

Convinced to cut down on your meat? Why not give Meat-Free Week a go and hit the link to learn more info and check out some scrummy recipes.