The New Year diet frenzy is now in full swing, with many of us adopting whacky new regimes in a quest for better health. But most of us will falter in the face of these fads before the month is out. Here, we explore a "diet" with staying power.
After the excesses of the festive season, these first few grey and guilt-ridden days of January tend to be characterised by frantic resolution-making and enthusiastic self-restraint. Sadly, though, the promises we make ourselves in this period, particularly where food and drink are concerned, can be notoriously hard to stick to. And it’s easy to see why, when the days are so short, dark and chilly – we all need food that makes us feel good.
But what if your chosen diet was all about celebrating great food and swapping the rigorous denial and deprivation that are so often the hallmarks of more traditional regimes with a far more moderate, flexible approach? Suddenly, the prospect of sticking with it in the long term might seem less daunting – even entirely doable.
The “diet” that endures
So what are we talking about here? Namely, a new generation of so-called “halfway” diets that are completely free from calorie-counting. In general, they encourage eating less meat (and always choosing high-welfare when you do indulge!) and much more fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts, grains and meat alternatives. In other words, no one is missing out – you’re simply changing the proportions in your diet.
And it’s catching on. From Paul McCartney’s Meat Free Monday campaign to Mark Bittman’s VB6 diet plan (which advocates a vegan diet before 6pm every day), and from the recently launched Meat Free Week to the increasingly popular Veganuary (which involves going vegan for the month of January), the word is well and truly out there.
Although they may have different routines, these diets all share a philosophy – they regard responsibly sourced meat and fish as a treat to be savoured once in a while, rather than devoured every day. And what’s so powerful about that message is its accumulative potential and the resulting impact on our world; if enough people enjoy meat-free meals, days, weeks and even months, then the many social and environmental ills brought about by the overconsumption of meat would be greatly eased, possibly even eradicated.
The unfortunate truth
Sadly, when it comes to our health, the evidence is indisputable – our appetite for “cheap” meat, which has been made possible by factory farming, has triggered a human-health epidemic in recent decades, which has included everything from obesity and heart disease to diabetes and certain cancers.
And that’s because factory-farmed meat has been shown to contain higher levels of saturated fat and lower levels of key nutrients than higher-welfare alternatives. But that’s not all: back in October, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared processed meat to be carcinogenic to humans, and concluded that red meat “probably” is too. In other words, all our futures must involve less of the stuff.
Interestingly, it isn’t just well-informed environmentalists, ardent animal-welfarists and health fanatics making low-meat menus cool – far from it. Bucking these well-worn stereotypes are people from all walks of life, and that’s thanks – in large part – to the huge selection of mouth watering meat-free recipes available in recipe books and blogs these days. We’re all spoilt for inspiration and choice.
In fact, champions of the low-meat lifestyle can come from rather unexpected quarters, whether that’s the double Olympic champion Mo Farah, who regularly replaces meat with Quorn protein, or the Norwegian army, which eats plant-based dishes one day every week. As the head of the army’s catering division said:
“It's about being more concerned for our climate, more ecologically responsible and also healthier.”
So, in conclusion, if you’re after a food fix for life and not just for January, it might be time to ditch the fad diets and detoxes and consider that eating less meat is a much simpler, much more sustainable and equally delicious lifestyle choice. As well as preserving your health and the environment, it would also be a compassionate gesture to the billions of animals farmed (most of them in factories, alas!) across the world every year. Give it a go!