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Vegetarian Diet - Better for the body and the planet

By: Judy Davie - The Food Coach

Comparing three diets, a traditional meat diet, a meat reducer diet and a vegetarian diet, Sanitarium's team of accredited practising dieticians compiled healthy and nutritious menus including snacks and drinks then analysed the nutritional program of each one. An environmental expert then crunched the numbers to gauge the effect of each plan on the environment in terms of water usage, the amount of land cleared to sustain each menu and the greenhouse gas emissions per adult. Finally they worked out the average weekly cost to feed a family of four people.

The diets

The traditional meat diet

Renowned carnivores, Australian typically eat well in excess of the quantities recommended in the Australian Dietary guidelines with meals such as BBQ's, lasagne, chicken stir fries and grilled fish. The menu included animal protein every day at lunch and dinner with quantities of meat similar to the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet.

The meat reducer diet

This diet was designed to cater to people who wish to reduce their meat intake with a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, dairy products, nuts legumes and seeds. It also included some lean meat, poultry and fish with the meat trimmed of fat to reduce the saturated fat content. Meat intake in this diet was within the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

The vegetarian diet

This diet was packed with a wide variety of nutritious plant foods and was high in protective phytochemicals. It met all nutritional needs and included essential vitamins and minerals including iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin B12 and folate. Despite not including meat the diet contains 30% more iron than the traditional meat diet. IT should be noted that this diet included a number of Sanitarium foods.

The Findings

Despite having adequate amounts of fruit and vegetables the meat eater's diet still contained almost twice the amount of saturated fat as the vegetarian diet. Such meat heavy diets are high in saturated fat, which may result in an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Protection against chronic disease is significantly increased in plant concentrated diets due to protective foods like legumes and soy products. They also include a high number of antioxidants and protective phytochemicals which may decrease the risk of cancer and chronic disease.

Plant foods such as legumes and nuts, which feature in the vegetarian diet, are naturally low in sodium and high in potassium. Studies have shown that vegetarians are two times more likely to have low blood pressure than non-vegetarian.

Vegetarian meals save you money

Comparing the three diets, the meat diet was by far the most expensive, followed by the meat - reduced meat diet, with the least expensive being the vegetarian diet.

The environmental footprint
Here's where it gets really interesting. The traditional meat diet evidently sucks up 24,000 litres of water during production per adult per week which is 50% more than the water required to produce the vegetarian diet/ Producing the recommended one kilogram of meat alone takes more water than the amount of water used to produce a week's worth of food on the vegetarian's diet.

Greenhouse gas emissions are also significantly higher under the traditional meat diet with more than six times the amount of emissions pumped into the atmosphere compared to the vegetarian diet. Producing half a kilogram of cattle meat is estimated to create more than four times the amount of greenhouse gases produced by a week's worth of vegetarian meals.

And when it comes to land clearing, a traditional meat eaters diet requires four time the amount of land cleared than a meat reduced diet and a whopping twelve time the amount required on a vegetarian diet

Reducing the amount of meat consumed each week can save 64 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions almost 12,000 litres of water and 172 square metres of cleared land when compared to a traditional meat eaters diet.


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