Tag Archives: vegetarian

Non-vegetarians more likely to opt for plant-based options when the menu is 75% vegetarian

Meat production is taxing on the environment, and if we want to reduce our carbon footprint and tackle climate change, we need as many people to cut down on their meat consumption as possible. Restaurants and cafeterias can play a role in this — firstly, by offering plant-based alternatives.

Many restaurants and even fast food places already offer at least one vegetarian or vegan option, which is a good start, especially for those who regularly opt for such options. But could more plant-based options push more meat-eaters to go for a veggie option, at least once in a while?

With this question in mind, a team of researchers from the University of Westminster carried out an experiment in which menus where 75%, 50%, or 25% of items were vegetarian were allocated to 468 participants. The menus looked like this:

Participants were either given a menu where A) 75% of the dishes were meat based and 25% vegetarian B) 50% of the dishes were meat based and 50% vegetarian of C) 25% of the dishes were meat and 75% were vegetarian. Credits: Parkin & Atwood (2021).

Researchers wanted to see whether having access to more vegetarian options makes a significant difference — apparently, it did, but only at 75% vegetarian options.

“We show that meat eaters were significantly more likely to choose a vegetarian meal when presented with a menu with 75% vegetarian items, but not when half (50%) were vegetarian,” the study notes.

There are significant shortcomings of the study — the fact that it has a small sample size, the fact that the sample size may not be representative for the entire population, the fact that the type of menu may also play a role — but researchers say that this study shows that interventions that offer more vegetarian options can push consumers can make towards more sustainable, low-meat and low-carbon options.

Dr. Beth Parkin, lead author of the study from The University of Westminster, said:

“This intervention shows the potential that the food service sector has in creating large-scale shifts to encourage meat eaters to change their preferences. The findings provide practical instruction on what percentage of their food offerings should be vegetarian if they are to succeed in encouraging sustainable eating behaviors. If the food service industry is to decrease its carbon footprint, they need to act by providing far more plant-based items than currently on offer.”

The meat and dairy industries account for nearly 60% of our agriculture emissions, or 15-20% of our total, planetary greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also one of the most impactful changes we, as individual consumers can do. Diet changes are paramount to avoiding catastrophic climate change, a growing body of scientific evidence is showing. This type of menu intervention can help reduce this negative impact, the researchers conclude.

The study has been published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

Healthier, more nutritious diets have a lower environmental impact — at least in the UK

More nutritious and healthy diet options can also help the climate, says a new analysis from the University of Leeds.

Image via Pixabay.

Our combined dietary habits can be a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Worldwide, food production accounts for roughly one-third of all emissions. This isn’t very surprising, since everybody needs to eat; but there are little tweaks we can apply to our lives which, added up, can lead to significant benefits for the climate.

New research at the University of Leeds reports that more nutritious, less processed, and less energy-dense diets can be much more sustainable from an environmental point of view than more common alternatives. While “less energy-dense” might sound like a bad thing, calorie content doesn’t translate into nutrient content. In other words, many energy-rich foods may actually just leave us fatter and malnourished.

Clean dining

“We all want to do our bit to help save the planet. Working out how to modify our diets is one way we can do that,” the authors explain. “There are broad-brush concepts like reducing our meat intake, particularly red meat, but our work also shows that big gains can be made from small changes, like cutting out sweets, or potentially just by switching brands.”

Similar analyses of the impacts of dietary options on the environment have been performed in the past. While their findings align well with the conclusions of the study we’re discussing today, they focused on broad categories of food instead of specific items. The team wanted to improve the accuracy of our data on this topic.

For the study, they pooled together published research on greenhouse gas emissions associated with food production to estimate the environmental impact of 3,233 specific food items. These items were selected from the UK Composition Of Foods Integrated Dataset (COFID). This dataset contains nutritional data regarding every item on the list and is commonly used to gauge the nutritional qualities of individuals’ diets.

The team used this data to evaluate the diets of 212 participants, who were asked to report what foods they ate during three 24-hour periods. In the end, this provided a snapshot of each participant’s usual nutritional intake and the greenhouse emissions generated during the production phase of all the items they consumed.

What the results show, in broad strokes, is the environmental burden of different types of diets, broken down by their constituent elements.

According to the findings, non-vegetarian diets had an overall 59% higher level of greenhouse gas emissions compared to vegetarian diets. This finding isn’t particularly surprising; industrial livestock farming is a big consumer of resources such as food and water and produces quite a sizeable amount of emissions from the animals themselves, the production of fodder, and through the processing and storage of meat and other goods.

Overall men’s diets tended to be associated with higher emissions — 41% more on average than women’s diets — mainly due to higher meat consumption.

People who exceeded the recommended sodium (salt), saturated fat, and carbohydrate intake as set out by World Health Organization guidelines generated more emissions through their diets than those who did not.

Based on these findings, the authors offer their support for policies aimed at encouraging sustainable diets, especially those that are heavily plant-based. One other measure they are in support of is policy that promotes the replacement of coffee, tea, and alcohol with more sustainable alternatives.

The current study offers a much higher-resolution view of the environmental impact of different food items, but it is not as in-depth as it could be. In the future, the authors hope to be able to expand their research to include elements such as brand or country of origin to help customers better understand what choices they’re making. They also plan to include broader measures of environmental impact in their analyses, not just greenhouse gas emissions.

For now, the findings are based only on data from the UK, so they may not translate perfectly to other areas of the globe.

The paper “Variations in greenhouse gas emissions of individual diets: Associations between the greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient intake in the United Kingdom” has been published in the journal PLOS One.

Crocodile.

Some extinct species of crocs were plant-eaters, fossil study reveals

Some crocodile species are vegetarians — but also extinct.

Crocodile.

Image credits Sasin Tipchai.

A study on fossilized teeth revealed that several ancient groups of crocodyliforms, the lineage that includes crocodiles and alligators, were not carnivores at all; in fact, they were vegetarians. The team reports that at least three (but potentially up to six) different species have relied on a plant-based diet in the past. They all are now extinct.

Mean green veggie machine

“The most interesting thing we discovered was how frequently it seems extinct crocodyliforms ate plants,” said Keegan Melstrom, a doctoral student at the University of Utah. “Our study indicates that complexly-shaped teeth, which we infer to indicate herbivory, appear in the extinct relatives of crocodiles at least three times and maybe as many as six.”

All crocodilians living today share the same general body shape, ecology, and live their lives as generalist, semi-aquatic carnivores. Being carnivores, their teeth are relatively simple, conical implements used to rip and tear through flesh and not much else. Melstrom and his graduate advisor, Randall Irmis, chief curator of the Natural History Museum of Utah, compared the tooth complexity of extinct and living crocodyliforms using a method originally developed for use in living mammals. Overall, they measured 146 teeth from 16 different species of extinct crocodyliforms.

It quickly became clear that the extinct species showed a different pattern of tooth structure. Some species showed multiple specializations that are not seen in living species today, including a feature known as heterodonty: regionalized differences in tooth size or shape.

“Carnivores possess simple teeth whereas herbivores have much more complex teeth,” Melstrom explained. “Omnivores, organisms that eat both plant and animal material, fall somewhere in between. Part of my earlier research showed that this pattern holds in living reptiles that have teeth, such as crocodilians and lizards.”

“So these results told us that the basic pattern between diet and teeth is found in both mammals and reptiles, despite very different tooth shapes, and is applicable to extinct reptiles.”

Through measurements of dental measurements and those of other morphological features, the team reconstructed the diets of the extinct crocodyliforms. The results suggest that these species had a wider range of dental complexity — and thus diet too — than previously estimated.

Plant-eating crocodyliforms popped up quite early in the group’s evolutionary history, the team explains, just after the mass extinction at the end of the Triassic. These species lived up until the end of the Cretaceous, when the dinosaur mass extinction occurred. The team’s analysis shows plant-eating species developed at least three times, possibly up to six times, during the Mesozoic.

“Our work demonstrates that extinct crocodyliforms had an incredibly varied diet,” Melstrom said. “Some were similar to living crocodilians and were primarily carnivorous, others were omnivores and still others likely specialized in plants.”

“The herbivores lived on different continents at different times, some alongside mammals and mammal relatives, and others did not. This suggests that an herbivorous crocodyliform was successful in a variety of environments!”

Their work is not yet done, however. Some fossil crocodyliforms are missing teeth and, armed with the knowledge of the present study, Melstrom plans to reconstruct their diets as well. He also wants to find out why these extinct crocodiles diversified so radically after one mass extinction but not another, and whether dietary ecology could have played a role.

The paper “Repeated Evolution of Herbivorous Crocodyliforms during the Age of Dinosaurs” has been published in the journal Current Biology.

Plant-based diets are best for your heart

Yet another study has concluded that plant-based diets have a protective effect on cardiovascular health. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, diets rich in fried foods, processed foods, or sugary drinks, are associated with a higher risk of heart disease.

Tacos can be plant-based too.

Researchers analyzed data based on 16,608 black and white adults aged 45 years old and older. Participants were given a 150-question questionnaire about their eating habits and were subsequently split into five groups, based on these habits:

    • • “Alcohol/salads” (heavy on wine, liquor, beer, leafy greens and salad dressing)
      • “Southern” (heavy on fried food, processed meats, eggs, added fats and sugar-sweetened beverages)
      • “Sweets/fats” (heavy on desserts, bread, sweet breakfast foods, chocolate and other sugar)
      • “Plant-based” (vegetables, fruit, beans and fish)
      • “Convenience” (heavily meat dishes, pasta, Mexican dishes, pizza and fast food)

Almost nine years later, researchers checked in again with the participants. There were 363 new heart failure hospitalizations, and the Southern diet appeared to be the most unhealthy of the five.

Researchers noted a 72% higher risk of heart failure hospitalization associated with the Southern diet, but there was a twist: after the results were corrected for Body Mass Index, hypertension, and excess fats, the correlation was no longer significant. The team believes that the Southern Diet doesn’t directly increase heart risk but is associated with increased obesity rates, and this increases the risk.

Meanwhile, plant-based diets were associated with a much lower risk of heart disease. Participants who were the most adherend to the plant-based diet had a 41% lower risk of new heart failure hospitalization compared to the least adherent. This difference couldn’t be easily explained by other parameters.

The strength of the study lies in the diverse and substantial sample size. People from all demographics and socioeconomic status were involved so that the results would be representative for the entire population. However, the study also has a substantial downside: the dietary habits were only assessed in the beginning, and therefore the study fails to account for any potential changes in eating habits.

This is far from the first study to conclude that plant-based diets are very healthy — not necessarily a vegetarian diet, but one that is very low in meat

Since plant-based diets are, by now, effectively proven to reduce heart risk, the team calls for more preventive diet-based measures and policies.

“The need for population based preventive strategies for heart failure is critical,” said Kyla Lara, MD, lead author of the study and a cardiology fellow at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “These findings support a population-based dietary strategy for lowering the risk of incident heart failure.”

The study by Lara et al. Has been published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

A flurry of new studies finds being a vegetarian is good for you

If you’re still not convinced that being a vegetarian is good for you — then this will probably change your mind.

In recent years, more and more studies are showing just how healthy being a vegetarian really is. In fact, it’s reached the point where many health organizations shortlist vegetarianism as one of the few go-to diets. Of course, things are not always straightforward, and eating only plant-based foods doesn’t guarantee that you’re healthy — but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Now, a new series of studies adds even more weight to that idea.

Study 1: Vegetarianism lowers heart disease risk

Among its main advantages, the vegetarian diet is most praised for its cardiovascular benefits. It’s one of the diets that heart doctors often recommend.

The new study was carried out on nearly 6,000 people in the Netherlands, finding that those who ate more plant protein at the expense of animal-derived protein showed a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease. The study was carried out over 13 years, and results showed a very strong correlation.

The study confirms what others have already found, and solidifies the vegetarian diets as one of the go-to for reducing heart diseases.

Abstract

Study 2: Replacing animal protein with plant protein associated with less plaque in the arteries

It’s one of the main myths about being a vegetarian: you’re not getting enough protein. But not only is plant protein sufficient to live by, it’s actually better than animal protein for your body. A study of 4,500 Brazilian adults finds that people who regularly consumed more plant-based protein were nearly 60 percent less likely than those consuming more animal-based protein to show evidence of plaque in the heart’s arteries.

Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood and it can slowly build up and stiffen the arteries, with dangerous consequences.

Abstract

Study 3: Eating plant-based foods associated with less weight gain

Not all vegetarian foods are created equal — some are healthier than others.

Ah yes, the most popular concern about every diet: weight management. A study carried out over 4 years tracked the body weight among more than 125,000 adults. The study found that diets rich in healthy plants (whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts) were associated with less weight gain. However, unhealthy plant foods (such as sugars, refined grains, and fries) are associated with more weight gain.

Significantly, you don’t need to fully dedicate yourself to vegetarianism — the more healthy plant-based foods, the better, even if you don’t go all the way.

Abstract

Study 4: Vegetarian diet associated with reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes

I feel like a broken record already: a vegetarian diet reduces your risk of heart diseases — and diabetes. A study on South Asians living in the US found that vegetarians have a lower body mass index, smaller waist circumference and lower amounts of abdominal fat, lower cholesterol, and lower blood sugar compared to people in the same demographic group who ate meat.

This suggests that the vegetarian diet reduces the risk of heart disease in a number of ways, often interconnected.

Abstract

Study 5: Eating higher quality plant-based foods associated with lower risk of death

Results from this study are even blunter: if you want to live longer, eat more good plants. Analyzing data from 30,000 US adults, researchers found that the quality of plant-based foods in the diet is more important than the quality of animal-based foods. Opting for better plant-based components of the diet lowered mortality by 30 percent while higher quality animal-based components had little effect on mortality.

The effects were strongest on people with chronic health conditions.

Abstract

These are just a few of the studies which will be presented at flagship meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, called Nutrition 2018. Overall, the scientific evidence showing the keeps piling up, so if you want to stay healthy, focus more on those plants!

Vegan meal.

Asheville officially issues the first city-wide vegan challenge in the US

Asheville, North Carolina, challenges residents and local businesses to eat plant-based food for one whole week.

Vegan meal.

Image credits Alexandra Gerea.

Between June 4 and 10, Asheville, North Carolina, will hold the first city-proclaimed vegan challenge in the US. City officials, alongside no-kill animal rescue organization Brother Wolf Animal Rescue hope that the challenge will “promote good health, animal justice, social justice, environmental justice, and climate justice,” according to a proclamation signed by mayor Esther Manheimer.

The challenge is spearheaded by the Brother Wolf Animal Rescue. In collaboration with Garth Davis, MD, and his team at Mission Health Weight Management, they created a guide with a seven-day meal plan, grocery list, and other tips for those who will take up the challenge. Brother Wolf will also partner with several local restaurants to highlight vegan options.

More than 800 people have signed up in the first 10 days since the challenge was issued, reports Citizen Times quoting Courtney Zurcher, Marketing Director for VeganFest and Brother Wolf.

“The goal is to take the number of people signed up, and track the environmental impact of all those people going vegan for seven days,” she added.  “We want to show, as a city, what you can do to impact climate change through a vegan diet.”

And the Asheville challenge has a lot backing it. Recent research shows that cutting down on meat and dairy is the single most effective way to lower your environmental footprint, mainly by reducing emissions, freshwater use, land use, water pollution (eutrophication) and air pollution (acidification), in the agricultural sector.

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, main author of the study, in a press release. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The seven-day challenge leads up to the Asheville VeganFest (June 8 to 10), which will also be presented by Brother Wolf Animal Rescue.

There’s also hope of ‘outsourcing’ the challenge — the shelter has created a 7-Day Challenge Start-up Kit complete with a sample press release, marketing plan, and proclamation. They’ve also set up a custom challenge website, a guide to securing partnerships and sponsorship, and offer a training webinar available on their website.

Avoiding eating meat and dairy is the single best thing you can do for the environment

Ever felt like you wanted to do something for the environment, but wasn’t really sure what? Well, researchers have the solution: eat less meat and dairy.

Beef is one of the worst foods you can consume, both for your own health and for the environment. Image via Wiki Commons.

It might not seem like the most straightforward thing, but a new study has found that livestock provides only 18% of all the calories we consume, but takes up 83% of all farmland.

Without meat or dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75%, freeing up an area larger than all of the US, China, European Union and Australia combined. It would free up countless ecosystems, drastically reduce environmental pressure, and reduce much of our greenhouse gas emissions.

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, in a press release. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The study assessed the full impact of these foods, from farm to fork, on land use, climate change emissions, freshwater use, water pollution (eutrophication) and air pollution (acidification).

“Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems,” Poore continues. “Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this. Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”

Of course, that’s not realistic — we can’t expect all meat and dairy consumption to disappear overnight, but even so, we could reduce it. Every pound of meat we reduce from our diet has an important effect on the environment. For instance, every pound of beef requires about 8000 liters of water, whereas an equivalent quantity of potatoes consumes over a thousand times less water. Even eggs only need about of fifth of what beef needs. The figures for land use are similar.

Everything here is plant-based.

Okay, you might say, but potatoes don’t provide the same nutrients as beef, do they? Well, the new study found that the plant-based replacements of meat, which offer similar nutrients, also have a dramatically lower environmental impact.

“Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy,” Poore added.

It’s not even about reducing all the meat. The study found that if only the most harmful half of meat and dairy production was replaced by plant-based foods, that would reduce more than 66% of the impact of the entire industry.

The study also highlighted a few unpleasant surprises. For instance, freshwater fish farming, long thought to be an environmentally-friendly practice, was responsible for a surprising amount of emissions. This is largely due to the methane produced by the unconsumed fish feed and excreted material, which deposit at the bottom of the lake. Grass-fed beef, thought to be a more sustainable practice, was found to be anything but.

“Converting grass into [meat] is like converting coal to energy. It comes with an immense cost in emissions,” Poore said.

This shouldn’t be taken as a call to turn vegetarian or vegan overnight — not at all. But it is a call to understand the impact our consumption is having on the planet, especially as this isn’t the first study to come to this conclusion. In fact, there’s a mountain of research documenting the negative impact of meat and dairy, and showing that reducing our consumption of animal foods can be impactful on many levels.

Moderating our meat and dairy consumption is not just eco-friendly, it’s also healthy. No amount of processed red meat is good for you, and even low amounts can be dangerous for your health.

The bottom line is simple: want to live a longer, healthier life, and do something amazing for the environment? Eat less meat!

Journal Reference: J. Poore, T. Nemecek. Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq0216

Vegetarian diets could help avert one-third of early deaths, Harvard researcher states

The benefits of a vegetarian diet have greatly been underestimated, American physician and nutrition researcher Walter Willett told the audience at a recent conference. Giving up meat while still maintaining eggs and dairy in your diet does wonders for your health and could prevent up to one-third of all early deaths, Willett concludes.

“We have just been doing some calculations looking at the question of how much could we reduce mortality shifting towards a healthy, more plant-based diet, not necessarily totally vegan, and our estimates are about one third of early deaths could be prevented,” he said.

“That’s not even talking about physical activity or not smoking, and that’s all deaths, not just cancer deaths. That’s probably an underestimate as well as that doesn’t take into account the fact that obesity is important and we control for obesity,” he added.

Recent research has consistently shown that vegetarian diets, while far from being a panacea, are effective at reducing weight and maintaining health. However, Willett’s study suggests that figures from previous studies gravely underestimate the benefits of such diets. For instance, the Office for National Statistics suggested that 141,000 deaths a year in Britain were preventable by renouncing meat, while the new research reports that about 200,000 lives could be saved each year in the UK if individuals removed meat from their diets.

He wasn’t the only one to praise vegetarianism at the Unite to Cure Fourth International Vatican Conference, where he presented his results. Professor David Jenkins, of the University of Toronto, who is credited with developing the glycemic index, also praised the effect that a plant-based diet has on one’s health.

[panel style=”panel-info” title=”” footer=””]The glycemic index is a rating system which shows how quickly each food affects your blood sugar (glucose) level when that food is eaten on its own, a unit widely used in nutritional and gastronomic guides[/panel]

In a study on gorillas, Jenkins found that if gorillas are fed the equivalent of a human vegetarian diet, their cholesterol drops by 35% in only two weeks — the expected equivalent of a strong treatment with statins — a class of lipid-lowering medications. Having a simple diet change be as effective as a medical treatment is remarkable and shows just how important the vegetarian diet can be.

“That was quite dramatic,” Jenkins said “We showed that there was no real difference between what we got with the diet and what we got with a statin.” However, at least for now, the diet switch on its own is no substitute for medical treatment.

Even if you don’t entirely give up meat, reducing meat intake can have extremely beneficial results. There is substantial research which shows that reducing meat from our diets (especially red meat) can help us be healthier and live longer.

Results have not yet been peer-reviewed.

Most beers and wines aren’t vegetarian — or why there’s fish bladder in your pint

If you ask the average person to name the ingredients of a beer, the odds are they’ll go for water, malt, barley and maybe hops. Throw in some yeast just to be sure. But who would ever think of fish bladder?

Image credits: ruben i / Flickr.

Since the 19th century, a substance called isinglass has been used to make beers clearer and more appealing to consumers. The problem is that isinglass is a form of collagen obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish. The word comes from the obsolete Dutch huizenblaas — huizen is a kind of sturgeon, and blaas is bladder. Although originally only made from sturgeon, nowadays, isinglass is mostly derived from cheaper cod, though some breweries still use sturgeon. To a lesser extent, isinglass is also used in some wines.

Isinglass rose to popularity as transparent glasses and pints started becoming the dominant type of drinking vessel. People didn’t like seeing cloudy beer in their glass, so producers started to add finings — substances added near the completion of the brewing process, which improve clarity quickly. In time, finings (and isinglass in particular) became more and more popular because they allowed for a quicker beer turnover, helping to clear it much faster than it naturally would. Humanity drinks a lot of beer and producers can sometimes have a hard time keeping up. Isinglass helps with that.

Image credits: Matt Brown.

The bladders of the fish are removed, dried, formed into various shapes. The resulting odorless substance is then used to clarify beer by combining with yeast and protein through electrostatic interaction. The isinglass also physically meshes with the yeast form large aggregates which settle rapidly, helping to easily clear the beer. Isinglass is most often used with cask ales (also called cask-conditioned beer) — unfiltered and unpasteurized beer which is conditioned and served from a cask without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure. However, many breweries still use isinglass for non-cask beers. Especially in the UK, fish bladders are still popular.

By the end of the process, not much isinglass is left in the drink, but the idea that any amount of fish bladder is in your glass is enough to scare some people. Beer-drinking vegetarians and vegans, in particular, are put off by this. Thankfully, vegetarian finings such as bentonite, seaweed or Irish moss also exist on the market and producers are starting to adjust, especially when consumers demand it; and they are demanding it. More and more producers are starting to replace isinglass and you start to see lots of beers with the Vegetarian or Vegan tag — this basically means they don’t use isinglass. After all, who wants to drink fish guts?

Vegetarian diet found to be twice as effective at reducing weight

A new study has found that going vegetarian is not only good for the planet — it can help you get rid of those extra pounds as well.

Image credits: Zeetz.

There is a lot of controversy and plenty of misconceptions floating around the vegetarian diet. It certainly doesn’t help that some people are treating it like a fad, or that others are boasting it to no limit, but going vegetarian (and science has proven this time and time again) can be very healthy for you, and is certainly eco-friendly. Saving plenty of animal lives is, of course, a very significant bonus. Another bonus might be losing extra weight.

Dr. Hana Kahleová, Director of Clinical Research at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington DC conducted a study with 74 participants, randomly assigned to follow either a vegetarian diet or a conventional anti-diabetic diet. The vegetarian diet was varied, consisting of vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, and nuts. Animal products were limited to a maximum of one portion of low-fat yogurt per day. The anti-diabetic diet followed the recommendations of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes and allowed meat and other animal products.

Both diets forced participants to eat 500 calories less than what they would usually have, but the results were quite different.

Although both diets led to a significant weight reduction, people following the vegetarian diet reported an average loss of 6.2kg compared to 3.2kg for the conventional diet. Kahleová commented:

“Vegetarian diets proved to be the most effective diets for weight loss. However, we also showed that a vegetarian diet is much more effective at reducing muscle fat, thus improving metabolism. This finding is important for people who are trying to lose weight, including those suffering from metabolic syndrome and/or type 2 diabetes. But it is also relevant to anyone who takes their weight management seriously and wants to stay lean and healthy.”

There was another added benefit to the vegetarian diet: while both diets led to a reduction in subcutaneous, subfascial and intramuscular fat  (as was highlighted by Magnetic Resonance Imaging), the vegetarian diet greatly reduced muscle fat, improving metabolism. Reducing intramuscular fat is particularly important for people with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, as this type of fat has been associated with insulin resistance. Reducing intramuscular fat also improves overall strength and mobility, especially in older patients.

Of course, it has to be kept in mind that this study is limited both in its sample size and in scope. This doesn’t, in any way, claim that a vegetarian diet is the be-all-end-all of losing weight. It does, however, show even more benefits of going vegetarian.

Journal Reference: Hana Kahleova et al — The Effect of a Vegetarian vs Conventional Hypocaloric Diabetic Diet on Thigh Adipose Tissue Distribution in Subjects with Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Study. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2017.1302367

 

8 simple tips to help you become a vegetarian

A delicious vegetarian curry — just one of the many vegetarian dishes you can opt for. Image credits: GracinhaMarco Abundo.

Some people choose vegetarianism to lose weight, others want to protect the environment or they love animals too much to eat them anymore, and there are also lots of people who find it cool that famous people are vegetarians. I mean heck, even Arnold Schwarzenegger promotes vegetarianism. Whatever your reasons are, if you’ve gotten this far, it means you want to change something but don’t know where to start with.

From an environmental point of view, science has already proven that adopting a vegetarian diet really makes a difference — even without considering the 400 million animals saved in 2014 thanks to people eating less meat. Every bit helps and you can really be part of the solution by making small changes to your daily habits.

Vegetarianism or Ovo-Lacto-vegetarianism usually means that you don’t eat meat (nor fish, but some people choose to do so). Yes, that’s it, nothing fancy about it. This is the simple rule from which everybody chooses where they set their limit. For instance, some people don’t eat gelatine (because gelatine comes from the animals’ bones), while others do. Others that don’t eat some types of cheese, as they contain animal rennet (though you can also make cheese without it). But nowadays, we’re lucky that there are so many options available, and surely someone already found a tasty substitute somewhere — the fun part is that we can choose our foods based on our preferences and are not limited.

Without no further ado here are a few easy tips for you, try them and see how they suit you:

Image via Pixabay.

  1. Take it slowly

It’s very important not to throw away all of your food now that you want to become a vegetarian, that’s still bad for the environment, and cutting everything out of the sudden might have a high rate of failure and relapse. Why not take it slowly? Try and change some parts from your favorite dishes with vegetarian options. For example, let’s say you like burgers very much (as I personally do); go to the supermarket and look for the aisles with free-from or vegetarian options, and check the variety of options. I guarantee you’ll be surprised. You might not like your first option, but the good part is, there are a lot of options to try. Some veggie burgers really do resemble the texture and taste of meat burgers, as other are just made of veggies and might taste like falafel. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find your favorite.

Simply mouthwatering! Image via Pexels.

  1. Fruits and veggies are your friends

You can never go wrong with fruits and veggies, they are your best friends. Here too, try to find a transition: don’t go directly to kale if you never liked it before. Don’t force yourself to eat that broccoli if you don’t enjoy it. I’m no big fan of kale myself, but I love potatoes, carrots, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes… you get the point by now: diversity is key. Fruits and veggies are no strangers, you can eat them by themselves or even have them as sides most of the times with your steak or burger. Try new vegetables, try new things. Enjoy the experience.

Image via Pexels.

  1. There is such thing as weekday vegetarian

Yes, there are people that can’t cut on meat all of the sudden, or just enjoy eating it. The weekday vegetarian usually eats vegetarian 5-6 days per week only vegetarian and chooses 1-2 days for enjoying a meaty dish. You’ll be surprised just what big of a difference this can do! If you only eat meat once or twice a week you’ll still save a lot of animals and prevent a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, while sticking to a much healthier diet. You’ll probably even appreciate the meat more. Yes, it’s good for you, it’s good for animals, it’s good for the planet. Give it a try!

Yes, all this is vegetarian! Image credits: Bradley j / Wiki Commons.

  1. All the restaurants and fast-foods have vegetarian options

… but you didn’t know that yet because it was never something that you were looking for. Well, chips are vegetarian (unless they are fried in the same place with other meats, but that rarely happens) and salads of course, but that doesn’t mean you only have to eat those. If you check the menu for most of the restaurants you’ll see a small V (usually green) at the end of the dish’s name, that’s vegetarian.

Also if you are looking for places that sell vegetarian dishes, you might want to check Happy Cow or similar platforms where you will find loads of places with tasty vegetarian options. You might also want to know that an Indian restaurant, always has vegetarian food, and it’s always really tasty if you are into spicy and strong flavor dishes.

Eat the rainbow! Image via Pixabay.

  1. Balance and diversity

The biggest question a vegetarian gets is: Where do you get your protein? Well, meat is not the only product full of protein. The best part about vegetable protein is that you get the benefits without all of that cholesterol, so it’s healthy too and good for your heart. Also, the vegetable and legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc.) usually have loads of fiber which is really healthy for your guts. Keep in mind that plant proteins don’t have all of the essential amino-acids and this is where diversity comes in once again, combining different types of legumes, cereals and vegetables you will be able to get all your essential amino acids, and more than that: vitamins, fiber, and minerals. What’s not to like?

Vegetarian marks take various shapes and sizes, but it’s usually some variation of a green V.

  1. Read the labels

Most of the food companies will label something if it’s vegetarian, even though it wasn’t their main idea to create a veg product, but this way they are able to sell a product to a new group of people. Most of the times you will find a ‘’V’’ sign or it will simply say ‘’Suitable for vegetarians’’ so it will make it easier for you and helps you spend less time checking all the ingredients while shopping.

Look for those hot Instagram photos for inspiration! Image via Pixabay.

  1. Find vegetarian pages on social media

I get most of my inspiration for cooking from Facebook and Instagram (guilty). There are loads of pages where they show you how to cook from scratch delicious vegetarian recipes, sometimes luxurious or indulgent, that you must give them a try. Books are also a great idea, but let’s face it, you spend more time on your phone rather than reading a cookbook. Many cooking websites also have a vegetarian section, so you just have to give it a search.

Aim for variety in your shopping. Image via Wiki Commons.

  1. Most of the supermarkets have a special aisle just for you

… you just have to find it. There is an aisle which usually has gluten-free, free-from, vegetarian and vegan products, especially because there are lots of people with allergies and intolerances or religion-oriented dietary choices. They have to make everyone happy, and this comes in handy for you. Not only that you will find vegetarian alternatives to burgers and sausages, but you might also be interested in trying something more ‘’exotic’’ like tofu, seitan or tempeh. This kind of products usually can mimic very well meat texture or related products and are also high in protein.

Don’t forget to be kind to yourself, and don’t judge yourself too harshly if you make the occasional misstep, we all do it. Keep in mind that every little matters, no matter what, so you are already making a difference.

Now that you know all of these things, go and explore, and try as many things as possible until you find what suits you best. Don’t stress that much about individual things, focus on diversity and balance. Don’t forget to check the menu at your local restaurant, you never know what delicious vegetarian dish they might hide.

84% of American Vegetarians Relapse after one Year

A study conducted on 11,000 Americans found that the vast majority of vegetarians relapse totally or partially after only one year. A third of them relapse after only three months.

People are starting to understand that you can have a healthy vegetarian diet so many are switching to vegetarianism. However, at least in America, most of them relapse after only one year. Image via Always Foodie.

Vegetarianism is the practice of intentional abstaining from the consumption of meat (red meat, poultry, seafood and the flesh of any other animal), as well as any other byproducts obtained through animal slaughter. Vegetarians typically consume dairy products (lacto-vegetarianism) and eggs (ovo-lacto-vegetarianism). The difference between vegetarians and vegans is that vegans don’t consume this products, and don’t consume any animal-derived products (like honey for example).

People can become vegetarians for many reasons; many choose to do so out of respect for sentient life, either due to moral or religious beliefs. Others believe it is healthier, and recently, many choose to do so because of environmental reasons – diets with low or no meat are much more sustainable and could solve many environmental issues.

But many believe that the recent surge in vegetarianism is just a fad, and it won’t last… and there seems to be a lot of truth to that; according to a new report put out by the the Humane Research Council 84 percent of vegetarians and vegans return to eating meat in less than a year. This also seems to fit in with previous studies, which showed that the ratio of ex-vegetarians to vegetarians is three to one.

“In the US, the population of current vegetarians/vegans sits at approximately 2%, while approximately 10% of the population are former vegetarians/vegans and about 88% have never been veg. This study, published by HRC, looks closely at that 12% of the population that identifies as either current or former vegetarians/vegans, and tries to better understand what makes people lapse, and in turn, what factors might help keep people veg. The findings presented here offer a lot of possible avenues for new strategic thinking in veg advocacy, and how we might move the vegetarian/vegan diet from the margins more towards the center”, the abstract of the paper writes.

So why is it that so many people fail in this attempt? Well, some of the reasons are pretty intuitive – while it’s very possible to maintain a healthy vegetarian diet, it requires significant planning and specific decision making to compensate for the void left by the lack of meat. The fact that people are used to eat meat and feel certain cravings is also significant, but this survey revealed another interesting cause: the lack of social support.

Falafel – one of my favorite vegetarian dishes. Seriously, try it out – it’s awesome! Image via Smith’s Vegan Kitchen.

More often than not, when people go vegetarian, they encounter social opposition from their friends. Sadly, instead of being supportive, the social groups are often counterproductive, and people simply don’t like it when their friends think badly of them – and this shouldn’t happen. Being a vegetarian shouldn’t carry a stigma anywhere, let alone a developed country like the US. That being said, there’s a growing trend in veganism and vegetarianism in the U.S. that’s already starting to change mentalities.

Even though people often relapse from vegetarianism, they usually don’t go back to the “eat ’em grill ’em” mentality. They tend to find a middle ground, eating less meat than previously and focusing more on eating sustainably and ethically raised animals.

In many underdeveloped or developing countries, eating meat is still seen as a symbol of prosperity, so it’s unlikely that vegetarianism will develop in the near future. But in the developed world, things are starting to change. People now know that with just a big of focus, you can eat healthily and ethically. A special case is India, where an estimated 450 million people are vegetarian (40% of the country’s population).

Roman Gladiators were mostly Vegetarian, Drank Sports Drinks from Bone and Ashes

Roman gladiators – some of the most feared warriors in history were mostly vegetarian, a new anthropological study has shown.

A retiarius (“net fighter”) with a trident and cast net, fighting a secutor (79 AD mosaic). Image credits: Wiki Commons.

Gladiators fought to entertain audiences in the Roman Republic and Roman Empire in violent confrontations; they fought each other, wild animals, and convicted criminals. Some gladiators were volunteers who risked not only their social standing, but also their lives, but most of them were actually slaves, schooled under harsh conditions, socially marginalized and even as they were admired for their fighting prowess, they were still despised as inferior citizens. But even as gladiators themselves were marginalized, the idea of a gladiator was immortalized in pieces of art, from commonplace objects to magnificent pieces of art.

You’d expect someone with such a brutal “profession” to have a pretty brutal diet – eating lots of meat, living for the moment, feasting as much as possible. But a new study on gladiator bones revealed that gladiators enjoyed a diet of mostly grains and meat-free meals, suggesting that even athletes relying on their strength and speed can thrive with a vegetarian diet.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Department of Forensic Medicine at the MedUni Vienna in cooperation with the Department of Anthropology at the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Bern and the bones came from Ephesos (today’s Turkey), being dated at 2nd and 3rd century B.C. At the time, Ephesos was the Roman capital of Asia, with a remarkable population of over 200,000.

Image from Ephesus. People gathered in the colosseum theater to watch gladiators fight.

Contemporary accounts of gladiator life sometimes refer to the warriors as hordearii–literally, “barley men” – and there is more true to that statement than initially thought. Karl Grossschmidt, a paleo-pathologist at the Medical University of Vienna subjected bits of the bone to isotopic analysis, a technique that measures trace chemical elements such as calcium, strontium, and zinc. By checking what chemical elements their bones have, you could reverse trace what they ate – and Grossschmidt found that they ate much more vegetables than animal protein. But they didn’t do this due to a personal belief or because they weren’t allowed to eat meat. Gladiators, it seems, were pretty fat – that’s what their bones indicate anyway. They ate a lot of carbohydrates, which helped them in two ways: it gave them strength and protected them from wounds.

 “Gladiators needed subcutaneous fat,” Grossschmidt explains. “A fat cushion protects you from cut wounds and shields nerves and blood vessels in a fight.” Not only would a lean gladiator have been dead meat, he would have made for a bad show. Surface wounds “look more spectacular,” says Grossschmidt. “If I get wounded but just in the fatty layer, I can fight on,” he adds. “It doesn’t hurt much, and it looks great for the spectators.”

But this diet had a big drawback – it left gladiators with a calcium deficit. If you don’t have enough calcium in your bones, they can simply snap, or at the very least, not support your muscles properly. But here’s the kicker: the gladiator bones had “exorbitant” levels of calcium compared to the general population. So this almost certainly means one thing – in order to compensate for this deficit, they drank vile brews of charred wood or bone ash, both of which are rich in calcium.

“Plant ashes were evidently consumed to fortify the body after physical exertion and to promote better bone healing,” explains study leader Fabian Kanz from the Department of Forensic Medicine at the MedUni Vienna. “Things were similar then to what we do today — we take magnesium and calcium (in the form of effervescent tablets, for example) following physical exertion.”

The clear formula for the drink is not clear, but whatever they used, it worked. In a way, gladiators pioneered the usage of sports drinks.

 “Many athletes today have to take calcium supplements,” he says. “They knew that then, too.”

If anything, this is yet another indication of how rough the gladiator life was. Compared to most of the world, life in the Roman Empire had some obvious perks, but not for gladiators. The crowds loved them when they won, artists revered them, but in day to day life, they were outcasts who risked their life on a regular basis with little recognition outside the arena. Wounds were also quite common.

“The proportion of wounds to the skull was surprising, since all gladiatorial types but one wore helmets,” says Harvard’s Coleman. Gladiators usually fought one-on-one, with their armor and weaponry designed to give opposite advantages

The existence of the four-pointed dagger (replica pictured here) was known from inscriptions, but its function was a mystery until this crippling quadruple knee wound was identified. (Courtesy Karl Grossschmidt)

There were different classes of Roman gladiators, and a fight usually comprised of warriors from different classes. For example, an agile lightly armored helmetless retiarus with a net and trident would be pitted against a plodding murmillo wearing a massive helmet with tiny eye slits and carrying a thick, long shield. Some match-ups were more common than others. The retiarius was traditionally pitted against a secutor or, possibly on rare occasions, a murmillo. Despite significant differences in armor and weaponry, modern analysis and reconstructions showed that the different type of gladiators were balanced – no class had a decisive advantage over another class, as bone wounds of all types have shown.

Journal Reference: Sandra Lösch, Negahnaz Moghaddam, Karl Grossschmidt, Daniele U. Risser, Fabian Kanz. Stable Isotope and Trace Element Studies on Gladiators and Contemporary Romans from Ephesus (Turkey, 2nd and 3rd Ct. AD) – Implications for Differences in Diet. PLoS ONE, October 15, 2014 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0110489

Tick bite helps spread vegetarianism

What would you like with your burger? Some anaphylaxis, maybe? No? How about nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea, congestion, sneezing, headaches or asthma? If this would happen to me, I would definitely say pass.

What does this have to do with a tick or with anything for that matter, one might ask. As it turns out, if you get bitten by a lone star tick, you have a good chance of developing what is called “alpha-gal allergic reaction” – which thankfully, doesn’t mean you’ll become allergic to girls, but sadly, means you will become allergic to a sugar carbohydrate found in red meats.

If you get bitten by this tick antibodies to alpha-gal in the tick’s saliva are produced in the person’s blood. Your body of course starts attacking the carbohydrate and remembers it as a bad thing, therefore it will attack it every time it sees it – including the one from meat.

“Blood levels of antibodies for alpha-gal in the human body can rise after a single bite from the lone star tick,” said allergist Stanley Fineman, M.D., ACAAI president. “This can result in allergic symptoms which are usually delayed after meat ingestion and may present as mild hives but may also be a severe, potentially deadly reaction known as anaphylaxis.”

The tick may be small, but it’s leaving quite a footprint. According to researchers, positive alpha-gal rates are 32 percent higher in the central and southern regions of the United States, which is lone star tick territory.

“These findings suggest that other species of ticks, or possibly human factors, may play a role in allergic reactions to alpha-gal,” said Fineman. “Patients with delayed allergic reactions after eating meats should see an allergist to determine if it is an alpha-gal allergy. The best treatment is strict avoidance of meat.”

So cows and pigs rejoice, hamburger sales go down, veggie sales go up… sounds like a good thing to me.