MORE Green, Red LESS
Studies promote the many health benets of a vegetarian diet, but you don’t need to go full veggie to reap the rewards. Adopting a semi-vegetarian diet can be easy to do.
Go green for immunity
Most people recognize the value of a vegetarian diet, but following one can feel daunting. Says Dr Qi Sun, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, “A change to vegetarianism can feel overwhelming and confusing and thus may not be sustainable.” A solution is to become a ‘semivegetarian’: Adopt a plant-based diet in which you cut out the red and processed meat and eat healthier animal products like seafood and poultry only occasionally. A semi-vegetarian diet is about adding and subtracting. You focus on greater amounts of whole fruit, vegetables, leafy greens, beans and legumes, whole grains, soy protein, and low-fat dairy. This increases your intake of antioxidants, essential vitamins and minerals, and fibre. In the process, you eliminate certain meats, which can contain high amounts of saturated fats, sodium, and chemical additives. What makes vegetarianism so appealing? Here is a scientific snapshot of how a mostly vegetarian diet can improve your health.
Longer life. A 2013 study in ‘JAMA Internal Medicine’ looked at more than 70,000 people who followed various diets: Nonvegetarian and various types of vegetarian diets, including semi-vegetarian. The early death rate was 12% lower among vegetarians as compared with nonvegetarians, especially among men. Vegetarian eating may motivate you to adopt other healthy habits, too. The researchers noted that the vegetarians also tended to drink less alcohol, smoke less, exercise more, and not be overweight.
Reduced risk of heart disease. In a 2013 study of about 45,000 people in the ‘Journal of Clinical Nutrition’, researchers discovered that the risk
of hospitalization or death from heart disease was 32% lower in vegetarians than in people who regularly ate meat. The vegetarians also had lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels than the non-vegetarians.
Slower cognitive decline. Preliminary research presented at the 2015 conference of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology tracked the diets and cognitive abilities of more than 950 older adults, average age 81, for five years. Those who ate the most green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, cabbage or cauliflower had a slower rate of decline in their cognitive abilities as they aged. In fact, the people who ate one to two daily servings had, on average, the cognitive function of a person 11 years younger than those who consumed none.
Begin With Small Changes
There are no rules how to adopt a semi-vegetarian diet, or even what percentage of your daily or weekly meals should be plant-based. “The best approach is to begin by making small changes to your diet and focus on overall diet quality and not just individual meals,” says Dr Sun. Here are some tips on how to embrace a semi-vegetarian eating pattern:
Begin with a single meatfree meal. Breakfast is ideal, as there are many vegetarian options like oats, whole grains, fruits and eggs.
Try a new recipe each week. This helps you experiment with different foods and tastes.
Choose a meatless day. One day a week, go vegetarian for all your meals.
Stock up on staples. Keep vegetarian staples on hand. Fill your cupboard with items like whole-grain cereals, nut butters, canned beans, low sodium vegetarian soups, popcorn, and dried fruit. This helps avoid meat temptations.
Embrace substitutions. Use a soy-based meatless substitute in your spaghetti sauce, or hamburgers. Devote a month to these changes and then re-evaluate your diet, says Dr Sun. “Note what types of foods you enjoyed and didn’t, and where you might struggle with daily eating. Take it slowly and make adjustments where needed.”
There are no rules how to adopt a semivegetarian diet, or even what percentage of your daily or weekly meals should be plantbased. The best approach is to begin by making small changes to your diet and focus on overall diet quality and not just individual meals.