Should I become a Vegetarian (and grow dreads, and wear hippie clothes and no shoes and get some piercings)?
I have been doing a lot of reading lately about the role that diet plays in regards to our mental and emotional health. I’m doing this mostly to convince myself that I need to make big changesmyself in my own life and stop ignoring the fact that if I did something about my own diet, I might start to feel a whole lot better.
Too Busy…………Too Stressed………….Don’t Have Time
I’m just like you. I’m busy, I’m over-worked, I’m time poor and I make bad choices as a result. I’ve got 4 kids, work a part-time job that involves shift work, am studying a Masters Degree and am also running my own business. Life over the last 2 years as I’ve transitioned from full-time shift work to putting more time in to the business has been absolutely insane. Add to that all the normal stresses in life that come our way and you find a person making bad choices almost daily, not because I’m slack, but because I’m often just in survival mode, just like you might be.
One of the easiest choices to make when life is insane is with food. I comfort eat. Maybe not the way most people do, I don’t really like chocolate. I like white bread and processed cheese and ham……mmmmmm……….. I’m salivating even as I think about it. Add a nice cold beer in to the mix and you’ve got a comfort meal fit for a stressed out, tired and cranky person. I also love crackers, and nachos, and double cheese corn chips. They’re so easy to eat and they’re so yummy. But I know they’re not good for me. Sure, as an occasional treat, but not every day.
So how do you change? How do you stop making these bad choices? Well, my experience, and the experience of so many others, is that you just make little changes and give them time to stick. People who do this tend to maintain these changes long term. People who go all extreme often fail long term because it’s not sustainable (I know, I’ve tried it) and if you want the evidence of that, have a look at how many contestants on the show The Biggest Loser maintain their weight loss long term? Not many.
Becoming a Flexitarian
So, my small change that I made recently (along with my wife and 2 of our kids) was to stop eating meat, to become a vegetarian basically. However my 9 year old daughter likes to correct me and tells me I’m a “Flexitarian” because I still do occasionally eat meat. I’m not against eating meat because I think that humans shouldn’t do it, but rather because:
- Our demand for meat is so great now in the West that the only way we can continue to support it is to be unethical in the way we raise, feed and slaughter the animal and I have a problem with the cruelty of that. Not to mention the sheer destruction that mass animal farming is causing to our planet. I came to this decision after watching a documentary called, “ Earthings .” NOT for the faint hearted, let me warn you.
- It’s not good for our health to eat too much meat.
So, I’m not going to talk about the ethics. You can go watch that doco via this site if you want. But I should warn you, it’s VERY graphic and violent and confronting. I want to talk about the health side of things.
Wreaking Havoc On Our Bodies
For the last 5 or so years now researchers are consistently finding that our over consumption of meat is wreaking havoc on our bodies. The fact that the research is being replicated by a whole bunch of different research groups is a good sign, it means it’s more likely to be spot on rather than just a vague concern that needs more research.
Last week Heartwire published long term data from yet another two studies with ,” investigators reporting results showing that processed and unprocessed meat consumption is associated with a significantly increased risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, as well as increased risk of death from cancer. After adjustment for multiple risk factors, eating one additional serving of meat daily was associated with a 16% increase in the risk of cardiovascular mortality and a 10% increased risk of death from cancer.”
Now, of course this doesn’t mean we all have to become vegetarians, but the clear message is that we’re eating too much.
“I think the overall message is that we should reduce our meat consumption and for processed meats we should definitely try to avoid or eliminate these from the diet ,” lead investigator Dr An Pan (Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA) told Heartwire . “For unprocessed red meat, most people should reduce the amount consumed to less than three servings per week and to replace these servings with fish, poultry, and healthy whole grains.
Bye Bye Pepperoni Pizza
So, I’ve stopped eating ham all together, and the old favourite, pepperoni pizza is definitely out. And I’ve got to say, I haven’t really missed it (I haven’t stopped eating cheese and crackers or white bread yet). Another thing to consider if you have kids is the impact of behaviour that processed meats have. I don’t have the time to go in to it now, but there is an established link between problematic behaviour, particularly aggression, and children who consume processed meats.
One in Four Cancers are Preventable
Another article published in The Conversation this week reports on research that suggests that at least one in four cancers are preventable . With only 10% of cancers being genetic or inherited that means that 90% of cancers are due to external factors. Admittedly, those external factors are still poorly understood, but at recent international collaboration of scientific experts, “the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) estimated that 25% of cancers could be prevented if we eliminated poor nutrition and diet, physical inactivity and obesity.”
Eating Brown Food
I heard a doctor who specialises in diet and nutrition recently say that if you look at your dinner plate and it’s mostly brown or pale yellow coloured foods (meat, bread, chips, pasta), with a little bit of red (because of the tomato sauce or the Maccas, Red Rooster, Hungry Jacks or KFC packaging) then there’s a serious problem with your diet. As many of our meals as possible should be mostly brightly coloured foods (peas, beans, capsicum, corn, carrots etc) with a small amount of brown and pale yellow foods on the side. And as often as possible, our meat should be pale meats, like chicken and fish.
My Poor Old Irritable Bowel
The other thing to consider is the link between gut health and depression. There is a growing body of research that suggests that diet and the resultant gut inflammation may be involved in the pathogenesis of depression. Several studies have demonstrated that people with depression often have gastrointestinal inflammation.
Several studies have also shown that treating gastrointestinal inflammation with probiotics, vitamin B and D and Omega-3 fatty acids can significantly reduce symptoms of depression and increase a person’s quality of life.
So, are red meat and processed meats inflammatory causing agents?
“Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that red meat contains a molecule that humans don’t naturally produce called Neu5Gc. After ingesting this compound, the body develops anti-Neu5Gc antibodies – an immune response that may trigger chronic inflammatory response.”
Not only that, but we’ve known for a long time now that the diet that livestock are often fed today is pro-inflammatory which in turn effects us when we consume it:
“Commercially produced meats are feed with grains like soy beans and corns, a diet that’s high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids but low in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats.”
Anyways, some food for thought there (pun intended). I’m off now to buy some chicken wings. I’ve got the younger kids on my own tonight and we’re going to watch a movie together and have one of our fave little treats, chicken wings marinated in plum sauce. I can email you my secret recipe if you like.
Oh, and don’t think for a moment that a vegetarian diet is tasteless and boring and hard to swallow. We’ve (and by we’ve I mean my wife) been experimenting with all sorts of recipes. Some have been awesome and some pretty average. Karen did Nachos recently that were seriously the best I’ve ever had, no meat! And recently Karen did a vege burger that all 4 kids, including my 2 carnivore teenagers, agreed were the better than any meat patty they’ve ever had.
Take care and here’s to good mental, emotional and physical health.
P.S. I promise I’ll be good tomorrow 🙂