With a growing number of Australians choosing to cut meat from their diets, it’s no surprise food retailers are changing their menus to include plant-based options.
While pubs will likely still serve your favourite chicken parmigiana and steak sandwich, some are starting to include vegan options such as plant-based burgers and dairy-free ice cream.
Around 11 per cent of Australians follow vegetarian or vegan diets, but cutting out meat isn’t without challenges.
Nicole Dynan, a practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, says while there are health benefits to plant-based diets, it doesn’t mean you’re immediately healthier.
“What can help it be healthy is planning it well.”
Technically, eating hot chips for breakfast, lunch and dinner would constitute a vegan diet, but it’s probably not going to be good for your gut.
Increase your veggies before cutting meat
Nicole says increasing your fruit and vegetable intake is a good way to start the shift towards a vegan diet, rather than going cold turkey and cutting meat out completely.
Fake meat is also a popular option for those considering cutting meat and is often used in vegan meals at restaurants. But, like all good things, eating fake meat in moderation is best.
“A lot of pubs can use faux meat products, which can help people transition to a vegan diet, but they are highly processed,” Nicole said.
“Some faux meats contain excess salts and saturated fats, so it can be something to have on occasion but the message there would be to learn to cook natural foods at home more often.”
Yasmine Probst, a senior lecturer at the University of Wollongong, says checking the dietary guidelines is also a good place to look when deciding what foods to include in your plant-based diet.
“If someone is looking at removing meat from their diet, it’s worth looking at the recommendations,” Yasmine told Hack.
“Recommendations like eating five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit are evidence-based and have been scientifically formulated over a number of years.”
Research has found that plant-based diets have a substantial positive effect on health, and have the potential to strengthen our immune systems.
“What is thought is the higher amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains are providing a protective mechanism, and that protective mechanism is helping with various factors including the immune system,” Yasmine said.
Get a health check from your doctor first
As with any major changes in your diet and lifestyle, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor or dietitian to make sure a plant-based diet is healthy for you.
“If someone was thinking of going vegan long-term, I’d suggest they have a blood test from their doctor and have that checked regularly,” Nicole said.
Vegetarian and vegan diets that aren’t correctly balanced can lead to increased risk of iron, zinc and vitamin B12 deficiencies, according to Yasmine Probst.
“If you do jump across to a vegan diet, there are some concerns – if you’re going to the extreme to remove all meat – there could be a risk of zinc, iron and sometimes calcium deficiency, as well as B12 deficiency of course,” she said.
There are some plant-based products that can provide iron and B12, but Yasmine says it’s worth regularly getting a health check “just to make sure your B12 and iron levels aren’t getting too low”.
It’s also important to remember that removing meat from your diet is not for everybody.
“For some people, it’s also just not possible,” Yasmine said.