My grandfather who originated from Crete ate a mostly plant based diet not for health but mainly due to availability and financial constraints of animal protein. Red meat was an occasional luxury and his original diet was a traditional Mediterranean affair with the staple array of vegetables, pulses, a moderate intake of fish, Greek yoghurt a little red wine and plenty of olive oil!
With his migration in the 1920’s came more affluence, urbanization and increase access to meat, this status symbol was wholeheartedly embraced in this new “lucky country.” Interestingly today only 7% of Australians eat the recommended five serves of vegetables per day!
We know that diet plays a big role in chronic disease such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Scientists have been looking into the benefits of traditional diets in their quest for answers, with the Mediterranean diet attracting most of the research. According to the American Journal of clinical nutrition, the Mediterranean diet has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, cancers neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s and living a longer life. Unfortunately my grandfather who took on the Australian love for steak and sausages, died in his 80s with diabetes, high blood pressure and dementia!
According to the World Health Organisation, there is sufficient evidence that processed meats like ham, bacon, salami and sausages may increase your risk of colorectal cancer. For instance eating 50g of processed meat (such as two small rashes of bacon) every day increases the risk of bowel cancer by 18%. There is also some evidence that red meat may also increase the risk of certain cancers.
The planet would also benefit from the reduction of red meat consumption, given the global livestock sector is a significant source of greenhouse gas, water pollution and forest clearing. Recently 37 experts collaborated for two years to produce the Lancets report; Food in the Anthropocene, to address a “civilization in crisis”. They came up with a “planetary health diet” that would optimize people’s health and reduce deaths globally by 19-24%.
The dietary overhaul includes a reduction in global consumption in less healthy food such as added sugars and red meat by less than 50%. Total daily meat consumption it recommends, shouldn’t exceed 28g/ day. The average Australian consumption is 250g a day!
The report also recommends a 100% increase in legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables globally. These foods contain lots of vitamins, minerals and micronutrients called polyphenols that support a healthy body and brain. They are low in kilojoules, rich in fibre, which fills you up and feed your beneficial bacteria. Fibre also slows the release of glucose into the blood stream, which along with polyphenols, helps maintain healthy blood sugar control and reduces the risk of diabetes. According to research from the University of Florence, vegetarians who eat a balanced diet have long enjoyed significant health benefits when compared to meat eaters.
So, how does this information influence my family’s eating? We generally eat a diet high in vegetables, legumes and nuts. We do eat some red meat, but no more than once a week. With my wife Karen’s Multiple Sclerosis, we have been following a lower saturated fat diet and opt for eating kangaroo. With only 4% saturated fat, it is one of the healthiest meats and has less environmental impact to conventionally farmed animals. Eating Roo is a great way of getting your iron and B vitamin fix. Our tip is to try making a lean Bolognase sauce where you can mask the gamey flavour with smoky paprika and other herbs and spices. Substitute your pasta for broccoli, roasted cauliflower or zuchinni ribbons! Our other protein sources are: fish a few times a week, legumes, tofu and nuts.
The easiest way I find to increase vegetable intake is to have a soup or a salad as a main meal. In winter vegetable soup is both warming and filling. You are only limited by your imagination, but I like to add as many colours and supplement with legumes. The same is for my salads. No boring Iceburg lettuce and tomato for me! Instead I will use every available vegetable in the fridge (at least 8 varieties) and supplement with seeds, nuts and a can of legumes. Not only do I love the texture and flavours, but it’s like taking my daily vitamin… only better!
How many serves of vegetables do you get a day? www.eatforhealth.gov.au
What strategies do you use to boost your vegetable consumption?
I would love to hear from you :)