We look at the benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets
As celebrities such as Beyoncé attempt vegan diets, Jenny Hewett asks whether it’s time you ditched meat for good.
If pop royalty Beyoncé and Jay Z’s slimline post-vegan diet physiques are anything to go by, their 22-day abstinence from meat and animal products offers visible results for your silhouette. But besides the aesthetic benefits of vegan and vegetarian diets, recent research by the University of Southern California has shown a link between high levels of animal protein in the diets of those under 65 and a four-fold increase in the risk of death from cancer, compared with those on a low protein diet – a similar mortality risk to that associated with smoking 20 cigarettes a day.
Even before the results of this study hit the headlines at the beginning of March, there has been a peaked interest in vegan and vegetarian lifestyles recently as a way to drastically improve your health and overall wellbeing. And it’s catching on in Dubai. Clinical dietician at iCare Clinics Juliot Vinolia Rajarathinam, says people in the city have made a strong shift to semi-vegetarianism.
‘Daily and regular intake of high quantities of animal diet can increase cholesterol levels, acid levels and other inflammatory factors that increase the risk for heart disease and cancer,’ she says. ‘Red meat is well-known for its high saturated fat and with the high incidence of obesity and related diseases in Dubai, people are cutting out meat as a step towards a healthy lifestyle. Weight conscious people are also avoiding meat as a means of reducing calories from fat in their diet,’ she says. And veggie and vegan friendly eateries in the city, such as 77 Veggie Boutique in JLT, are helping push healthier living. ‘This is obvious in Dubai in the recent increase in vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants,’ she adds.
She adds other factors propelling the vegan and vegetarian trend are animal welfare and environmental benefits, the fact vegetarian diets are largely proven to be disease preventative, the premise that meat is intrinsically unhealthy and religious beliefs that a vegan diet reduces stress.
That being said, we can’t ignore that social media also plays a part in the way we eat these days, she says.
‘It is sad that social media has a greater impact on people than awareness progammes and documentaries by the government world health organisations,’ says Juliot. ‘If one practice or diet is proven healthy, the media emphasise one factor so much that it drives the community to practise it. The current trend has shifted from vegetarianism to veganism.’
But is one more beneficial over the other? ‘The vegan diet has its own attributes of high antioxidant and high fibre content. But, it can be more beneficial than vegetarian only if it is nutritionally balanced and adequate,’ she says. ‘It can get a little challenging for a vegan to ensure on a daily basis that he or she is eating a nutritionally adequate diet. We have to understand that it is not only over-eating of a food component like meat that can lead to diseases but also the deficit of dietary fibre can also affect health,’ she says.
Do it right, however, and you’ll reap the rewards. ‘A vegetable diet is high in fibre and antioxidants, disease preventive and gut-friendly. When cutting out meat from the diet, appetite increases and you might feel hungry more often, there is notable weight loss in two weeks and improvement in blood cholesterol parameters and bloating associated symptoms,’ says Juliot.
Dubai-based British communications executive Selin Arkut tried the 22-day vegan detox diet in order to shed a few pounds and says she didn’t miss meat at all. ‘I’m anemic so I would feel really lethargic for the first week until I discovered I could get the same amount of iron from broccoli and spinach,’ she says. ‘I felt quite tired to begin with, but then lighter and healthier – everyone in the office would comment on my glowing skin.’
On the other hand, Jamie Goodwin, a Dubai-based British journalist who has been on a vegetarian diet for six months, made the change due to personal beliefs. ‘I have never felt totally comfortable eating meat from animals that may not have been treated well, so I started by saying I would only eat organic and ethically sourced meat,’ he says. ‘Obviously I was eating less and less meat and not missing it as much as I thought, so I tried cutting it out completely,’ he says. Though recently, an injury has forced him to fall of the wagon. ‘I lost weight and a bad ankle injury was taking longer than usual to heal. I put both of these things down to a lack of protein from meat, so I’ve started to eat meat again temporarily,’ he says.
And that’s the number one drawcard about this diet. It’s safe to alternate between eating meat and not. Juliot says cutting down your animal protein consumption to only a couple of times a week will also benefit your health. iCare Clinics, 2nd floor, Oasis Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 384 7272).