How to eat more sustainably and healthy – less meat, more plant-based alternatives

Still nowadays we have the preconception that plants are not fully satisfying as foods. We never say – oh, I’m craving a chickpea stew, right? It will be more likely we hear – oh, how I crave that hamburger. Or pizza.

Many still believe that plant foods are not complete nutritionally speaking because there are no plants that contain all essential amino acids in one, like fish or eggs, so animal protein supposedly is indispensable for every day consumption, or maybe even every meal.

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The famous idea that in order to be a strong man you have to eat meat, not vegetables, is still going strong (Just check out “Real men eat meat” on Google).

But the huge meat consumption and such little plant-based ingredients in our diets is one of the main reasons for the most important cause of death in the world nowadays – Cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Yes, diet is the most important risk factor in developing or preventing heart disease. Think about it, it may sound banal at this point, but you are who you eat. Ladies, you carefully choose what skin products to use, correct? And gentlemen, you pay attention to the oil you put in your fancy cars, don’t you? So why so little respect and attention to what we put in ourselves? Here is an article on WHO for you to read more in detail about CVDs.

And let me tell you something else, that you have probably already heard a million times in the past years. what we eat is impacting climate change too, so there are just too many reasons today to not be vigilant of what you eat!

By the way, eating only meat, guys, doesn’t make you a real man, cardiovascular disease means your blood vessels become obstructed leading to a worse blood flow to your organs, even to the most important men’s instrument between your legs, that will actually be the first to suffer because of the already very small and thin blood vessels.

So, if it is our diets that are at fault, what is it that we are doing wrong?

The frequent new diet fads that pop up to loose weight fast don’t help the cause. There is no beneficial, healthy or long lasting “fast weight loss”. There is no magic pill, no magic food, smoothie or anything that will let you lose 10kg in a month and stay that way for the rest of your life.

You will get tired of sticking to no-dairy, no-carb, no-fat, no-flavour diet and will soon start binge-eating. And what is more, some diets excluding some very important food groups focusing only on one or two of them, like fats and protein, will not be diets that will keep you in good health in the long run. Our bodies need all food nutrients to survive, to thrive, and it is not about nutrients themselves, it is about the foods, the quality and freshness that you choose.

Meat, for example, is not made only of protein, it contains saturated and unsaturated fat, the quantities will differ depending not only on the species of the animal, but how it has grown, what it has been eating. Animals that have grown in the open air, who have had more space to move, who have been able to graze on fresh grass, flowers, maybe even some forest berries, will be significantly higher in unsaturated fats (good fat), than animals from industrial farms. So if you eat meat, it is not only about animal wellbeing when you choose local, humane, organic meat from small farms, it will actually be higher in the beneficial nutrients too!

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Just like vegetables are not all protein either, vegetables are filled with CARBOHYDRATES. This scary word – carbohydrates. It is actually a very big nutrient group that does not only consist of simple sugars that we really should avoid. It consists of FIBRES as well, which is one of the most important nutrients we need to have in our everyday diet to keep a good and healthy gut. It helps you (sorry) go to the bathroom regularly, it helps slow down glucose absorption from the gut into the bloodstream avoiding insulin peaks, the microbiota that eat the fibre in our gut actually produce vitamins for us to absorb. So veggies, with carbohydrates in them, are fundamental in our diet!

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It is all about lifestyle and what you do during your whole life. Meaning, you can have “cheat days”, have a fabulous festive meal where you feel like you might explode and still stay healthy. How? Because you live a healthy lifestyle in your normal daily life and the festivities happen only once in a while, that is why they are festivities!

SO How did we get here?

After World War II the industrial food production had a tremendous boom and the ability to produce high calorie, high nutrient foods rapidly and at a low cost changed the way we eat. The discovery and invention of many different food additives, preservatives, taste enhancers made certain low quality foods so much more appealing.

Think of the film, The Founder, how the McDonalds business became a franchise all over the US and then the world. There is a scene in the middle of the film where they discuss the tremendous amount of money franchisees would save, if they switched real milkshakes (the high price of actual ice cream and the cost of electricity for all the refrigeration) to powdered milkshakes from a bag, that would cut the costs in half, maybe more. And apparently “it tastes like the real thing”, with flavourings, powdered milk, thickeners… YUMMY

The famous Western diet – apart from the refined and processed foods, the incredible amount of meat that we consume nowadays is insane. And the availability and the cost is just ridiculous.

You know that the industrial farming we have today, the use of hormones and antibiotics (already in preventing diseases, not even to treat them), the selected breeds that grow twice as fast as the old ones is something the human race has seen just in the past hundred years or less.

But image our grandparents and great grandparents, and people living 200 or maybe even 2000 years ago. They didn’t have access to such quantity of meat and they survived just fine. Yes, they did consume meat, of course, they did!

But firstly, animals were killed for religious festivities happening only a few times a year, secondly all the animal meat was used for different dishes, not like today where we only want the filet or the chicken breast. And the meat occupied a relatively small part of the dish, wheres today it occupies maybe 95% of the dish with one lettuce leaf for decoration.

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In antiquity, and probably less than a hundred years ago still vegetables and legumes would dominate the diet, which are the products that nowadays are considered to be the more sustainable and the healthier choice. Yes, vegetables are not complete protein sources, but have you noticed interesting mixes of foods in local traditional diets? An excellent example is the South American staple food – beans and rice. These are protein sources (and carbohydrate sources for fibre) that complement each other, turning the dish into a complete protein source, so there is no need to add any animal protein to he dish.

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But legumes are so hard, annoying, long to cook…

It is not the best option to buy precooked legumes in a can, there are always some additives and excessive salt in there, not good for our health. But I am sure many will think – dried legumes take such a long time to cook, or I don’t own a pressure cooker etc.

Let me give you a small trick. It will save you time, and money.

Legumes are super rich foods that will keep you nice and full, and that can be cooked in so many ways in sauces, with other products, be made in dips or just eaten boiled alone with some herbs and some extra virgin olive oil on top. And they are so much cheaper than meat. Yes, they are!

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Leave the legumes 24 hours in water to soak. No less than the 24 hours, trust me, you will see the cooking time will be very little after that.

Try chickpeas, if you soak them for 6 hours, you will probably cook them for 2 hours. If you soak them for 2 hours, you will cook them for less than an hour. You can always add just a teaspoon of baking soda to the pot in the end, the alkaline solution will generate a chemical reaction that will break the cell structure of the legumes, making them softer.

You can do this on a weekend, cook a big batch of beans or chickpeas, there are so many different varieties, and just leave them to cool in the cooking liquid. Store them in the fridge in the cooking liquid for several days and use them to make a different dish every day, like:

  • a legume stew,
  • hummus,
  • salad,
  • eat them with a dash of EVOO and some parmiggiano grated on top…

So many options. And no need to include meat. Stay tuned for a plant-based recipe tab on my blog soon!


About

Graduate in Gastronomic Sciences, Q Arabica Grader, WSET L2 in wine. Obsessed with cooking new recipes, I love visiting producers and travel for food!

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