This week I was writing an article on insect's new superfood status and it got me thinking. Insects are becoming more and more popular for a variety of reasons, one of which is sustainability.
Let me explain. 1kg of livestock requires around 6kg of feed. In comparison 1kg of insects requires 1.7kg of feed. Livestock produce a large amount of greenhouse gasses and release considerable amounts of ammonia. In terms of water usage livestock also require significantly more water. Overall this can’t be great for the environment. Now I am by no means suggesting that we all give up meat and become totally vegan. I am however, questioning what would happen if we gave a little more consideration to our environment and ate a little less meat?
I have been taking part in meat-free march. The idea of this is to be a little considerate and not eat meat for one month. I have been eating plenty of fish and eggs so this isn’t a vegan challenge.
Let me begin by approaching this from a more general point of view before I discuss the nutritional implications of this.
In general I’m not a massive red meat fan, I find it heavy and rather difficult to digest. I’ll have red meat every so often (probably once every 2-3 weeks) because it is a great source of iron. I'm a big fan of chicken and turkey but again I wouldn’t consider my 2-3 portions a week excessive.
Over the past 11 days it hasn’t really been on my mind. The only times I’ve found it challenging was when meat has been served to others I’m with at dinner.
So nutritionally speaking what risks do you run by reducing your red meat and poultry consumption? Research surrounding red meat is largely inconclusive, some links it to cardiovascular disease and colon cancer whilst other scientists suggest these links are not strong enough. If your red meat intake is moderate then there’s no need to worry.
To clarify I’m referring to fresh cuts, I don’t advocate eating processed meats regularly as their high levels of nitrates have been associated with bowel cancer.
So if you reduce your meat intake, many people fear they’ll miss out on protein and vital nutrients. Yet if you’re still eating fish, eggs, nuts and seeds you have no reason to worry about protein. Most of us worry far too much about getting enough when in actual fact we are over-consuming protein.
The two other key nutrients found in meat and poultry are iron and vitamin B12. Iron can be obtained from plant sources such as seeds, nuts and green leafy vegetables. However, plant-based sources are not as readily available as animal sources. I’ll give you a top tip though. If you add vitamin C to plant-based iron sources you can increase the nutrient absorption. For example squeeze lemon juice over your broccoli or spinach and your body will be able to absorb more of that iron.
In regards to vitamin B12, you can get enough from fish, eggs and milk.I wouldn’t worry about this unless you are following a vegan diet in which case I recommend you take B12 supplements.
Overall, reducing your meat intake won’t affect your nutrient status and it’s one small step to help the environment. I don’t advise you remove it completely, merely be aware of what you are eating and swap some of your meaty meals for a fish or plant-based option instead.