I am over 75 – older than the baby boomers. I weigh less than when I got married at 19. I did an unsupported headstand and ran 11 miles this morning and measure much younger than my age in all aspects of fitness. Why am I telling you this? It is not to brag (well, maybe a little bit!).
As someone who is older than most Prime women, one of my aims is to be a positive example of the happy, healthy and strong life we can all enjoy into our 70’s and beyond.
A vegetarian diet makes a major contribution to this wellbeing. Everyone has heard that being vegetarian adds to health and life; keeping one slim and youthful and reducing the odds of suffering from so many of the major diseases that afflict far too many people in Western societies in their later years. A vegetarian diet is much kinder to the food budget, whether we eat at home or away. And we keep being reminded that a meat-based diet is harder on the environment than a plant-based one.
Still, the foods we eat have been a source of comfort and pleasure all of our lives and it is not easy to give up long formed habits whether bacon and eggs for a weekend breakfast, steak for celebratory dinner or barbecued burgers on a summer weekend.
However, there are some simple gradual steps toward being more veggie that are not difficult and that will give you the vegetarian’s advantages such as a slimmer, healthier body. Here are seven.
If you did just this you would go a long way to improving your health, figure and wellbeing. Not only do you get more vitamins, minerals, fiber and other phytonutrients. You also get less of the fats, sugars and other undesirables that are found in the meats and processed foods you now have less room for on your plate. Thinking of adding a cooked veg and a raw veg, maybe a salad, to every meal — even if it is just some spinach in your eggs and a few cherry tomatoes at the side of your breakfast plate.
A word of warning. One can be a pure vegetarian and still be unhealthy if you do not eat fresh vegetables. A diet of French fries and chips (or chips and crisps for the British) is vegetarian, but it will make you fat and sick.
To be gentler on the environment, choose any animal protein from the smaller, rather than the larger, animals. It takes 16 pounds of vegetable food to make a pound of beef and only two pounds for a pound of chicken. Replacing beef and pork with fish and chicken may not make much difference to you nutritionally, but it will require less water, energy and other scarce resources.
If you are still eating meat or fish, eat a little less at each meal. Have a regular burger instead of a Big Mac. Eat a small steak rather than a larger one. Because you are buying less, you can now afford to go for a better cut. Eat animal proteins one at a time. Have surf OR turf.
You can serve spaghetti without meatballs and chili sans carne or make a main dish of salad. Filling soups like bean and barley or borsht do not have to have animal protein. Even if you still eat meat, know that every time you choose to eat a meatless meal, your body, your budget and the planet will benefit.
Analogs are the veggie burgers, the veggie dogs, the chick’n tenders and other plant-based food products made to resemble and replace their meat-based counterparts. They are increasingly available in supermarkets (sometimes in the meat counter) and on menus in restaurants. You can also find some great examples in any Chinese vegetarian restaurant.
This is an option that did not exist when I first went veg in the 1970’s. I met my first vegetarian hot dog after not having had a hot dog for over ten years and thought it was wonderful. In truth, some analogs are better than others in taste and nutrition. Some vegetarians avoid eating anything that even looks like a meat product. I use few analogs and don’t usually have them in my kitchen, but they have made eating out very much easier for vegetarians and those who are moving that way.
In past times and in poorer countries, only the rich could eat meat. Meat is hard on the budget and hard on the environment. If you enjoy it, that makes meat a luxury. (If you don’t enjoy it, you definitely should not be eating it.) However, many of us are now sufficiently well off that we can afford to eat meat every day or even more often. Too much exposure turns a luxury into a commodity that is taken for granted.
Make meat a luxury again by saving it for special occasions. Not every meal has to be Christmas dinner. Try to keep it for weekly family gatherings or on birthdays and holidays so that those who enjoy it will appreciate it.
This step is purely psychological, but if you start calling yourself a vegetarian and thinking of yourself that way, you will automatically begin to make more plant- based choices in the supermarket and in restaurants. But, you say, “I can’t be a hypocrite. I still eat meat even if not as much and less often than before.” In that case, call yourself ‘primarily vegetarian’ as more and more of your eating becomes plant-based. You are then still being honest — even if you have a hamburger once in a while.
It is hard to go vegetarian cold turkey (pun intended!) But by following these steps you can move in that direction and preserve your youth, your health and the earth. Maybe a year from now you will be looking for simple ways to go vegan.