Doing Meat Free March? Some nutritional guidance

Doing Meat Free March?  Some nutritional guidance

My friends, Meg and Renae, are doing Meat Free March.  If you are in the same boat and want some healthy guidance, here’s a crash course in vego nutrition.

It’s easy for a vegetarian diet to be high in CARBOHYDRATES.  Make sure you aren’t relying on bread/big bowls of pasta/processed cereal to fill your belly.  Your blood sugar will go up and down and you might feel ‘hangry’ more often.  The best carb-rich choices are lots of fruit and vegetables, whole-grains such as brown rice, barley, quinoa and buckwheat (use this month to try some new grains!), and whole grain pastas.  Pumpernickel and real sourdough breads are lower GI than white or brown bread and will keep your belly feeling satisfied for longer.

If you find that you are craving or “needing” sweet and sugary foods for energy, it’s probably a sign that you need to add more slow burning fuel to the energy fire – some healthy protien and fats.  See below for good vego sources.

If you are eating dairy, organic is best and free range/grass fed is second best to reduce chemical load and get more beneficial nutrients.  You are better off to eat smaller amounts of full fat dairy than lots of low fat dairy.  The full fat stuff contains the fat soluble vitamins, A, E, D, and K2, as well as the fat needed to help you absorb them.  Low fat dairy is higher the in glycaemic index – might cause blood sugar spikes and contribute to hangrieness.

If you are eating fish this month, choose smaller fish that are lower down in the food chain.  Not only are they more sustainable, they contain lower levels of heavy metals and other contaminants.   Some better choices are mackerel, sardines, mullet, trevally and taylor.  

FATS – just because you are going on a higher plant food diet, don’t consume more “vegetable oil” – as healthy as it sounds it is usually not made from vegetables (more likely to be soy/peanut/sunflower oil) and it’s highly refined!  They are super high in omega 6 fatty acids.  Too many of these (and not enough omega 3 fatty acids) cause inflammation in the body.  You are better off using extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil as healthy, stable, less processed, real food options.  Other whole food, healthier fat options are avocados, nuts and nut butters, seeds and tahini.

If you want to better understand the processing of refining vegetable oils, check out this clip showing how canola oil is made – http://

PROTEIN is usually of interest to those ditching the meat and going vego for a month!  First important thing to know is that different plant sources have different combinations of the amino acids (building blocks of proteins) that our body can’t make.   Smart combining of plant protein foods helps you to get good amounts of all your essential amino acids.  Over the course of a day, try and eat a variety of vegetables, whole-grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Most people need about 0.8mg of protein per Kg of body weight per day.  A person weighing 65kg therefore should aim for about 52g.  Here are some good vego sources:

Vegetables Grains
1 medium stalk broccoli 4g 1 cup white rice 4g
½ cup sliced carrot 1g 1 cup brown rice 5g
1 cup cabbage 1g 1 cup wild rice 7g
1 cup spinach 1g 1 cup quinoa 8g
1 cup chopped capsicum 1.4g 1 cup buckwheat 6g
1 tomato 1g 1 cup barley 4g
1 capsicum 1g ½ cup corn 4g
½ cup zucchini 1g 1 slice white bread 2.6g
½ cup asparagus 3g 1 slice whole-wheat bread 3.6g
½ cup beetroot 1.5g 2 slices corn thins 1.2g
½ cup eggplant 1.3g 1 cup white pasta 5g
½ cup Brussels spouts 3.3g 1 cup wholemeal pasta 7g
1/2 cup mushrooms 1g 1 cup Cornflakes 1.9g
3 sun dried tomatoes 1g ½ cup rolled oats 13g
½ cup pumpkin 1.3g 2 Wheetbix 3.7g
½ cup sweet potato 2g 2/3 cup gluten free muesli 6g
Legumes Nuts and seeds
1 cup baked beans 14g ¼ cup almonds 7.5g
½ cup green beans 1g 2 Tbs almond butter 4g
1 cup lentils 18g ¼ cup pecans 2.5g
1 cup lima beans 15g ¼ cup pistachio nuts 6g
1 cup chickpeas 15g ¼ cup macadamias 3g
½ cup tofu 10g ¼ cup walnuts 4.5g
½ cup tempeh 15g Pine nuts 4g
1 cup mung bean sprouts 3g ¼ cup brazil nuts 5g
1 cup split peas 16g ¼ cup hazelnuts 4.4g
1 cup kidney beans 15g ½ cup coconut milk 2g
¼ cup peanuts 8g ¼ cup desiccated coconut 1.6g
2 Tbs peanut butter 8g ¼ cup desiccated coconut 1.6g
1 cup black beans 15g 2 Tbs sesame seeds 3g
1 cup canned 4 bean mix 11g 2 Tbs pumpkin seeds 7g
2 Tbs cashew butter 6g 2Tbs tahini 3g
¼ cup cashews 5g 2 Tbs chia seeds 4g

Try and get lots of variety this month (as always).  Use it as an opportunity to try new foods and new recipes. 

Plant foods contain good amounts of MINERALS, but also some “anti-nutrients” that bind to the precious minerals to make them harder to absorb.  A few tips for getting more nutritional bang for your buck –

  • Soak and sour your wholegrains, beans and legumes before cooking.  This reduces the amount “anti-nutrient”, phytic acid.  Pour your grains/legumes into a bowl and cover with twice the amount of warm water (they will soak up lots of water) and 1 Tbs of vinegar per 1 cup of grains or beans (if you are soaking oats for porridge/bircher muesli, skip the vinegar for taste!).  Cover with a clean cloth to keep bugs out and leave to soak  at least overnight (for grains) or for 1 day before cooking (for beans).
  • Eat a good source of vitamin C with each meal.  It helps with absorption of minerals.  You could try a piece of fruit with your oats, some chopped fresh tomato with your Mexican beans, or some chopped capsicum with a quinoa pilaf.
  • Avoid drinking coffee and tea with meals. These drinks naturally contain compounds that reduce mineral absorption.

If you aren’t eating seafood, eat some seaweed (nori wraps, seaweed sprinkles) to help you get plenty of iodine to keep your thyroid happy.

Finally, to help with food prep inspiration, here are some great healthy vegetarian recipe blogs:

101 Cookbooks, Naturally Ella, The First Mess, My New Roots, Meatless Monday