Life Healthy Eating

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Eat your greens - it's good for your health and your pocket

Eco-friendly meat-free meals will help cut your bills, says Aideen Sheehan

Published 11/07/2014 | 02:30

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Helen Cassidy says there are huge health benefits to eating less meat
Bean burger

Meat-Free Monday has become a popular movement across Europe, encouraging us to curb our carnivorous instincts and go greener with our meal choices.

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It's not about going vegan – it's simply about encouraging us all to eat a bit less meat and a lot more veggies in order to cut down on harmful greenhouse gas emissions from animals.

Paul and Stella McCartney and celebrity chef Rozanne Stevens are among the advocates of making at least one day a week meat-free, citing the health as well as the environmental benefits.

Budget-food writer Caitríona Redmond says regular vegetarian meals are also a massive help in keeping grocery bills down.

"As a rule of thumb eggs are a third the price of meat, and beans are a third of the price of eggs, so you're looking at huge savings," she says.

Caitríona says her husband – like most Irish men – is a meat lover, but he'll happily enjoy veggie alternatives, particularly if she doesn't mention it in advance.

And kids love any kind of burger you can hold in your hands, so bean burgers are a great alternative to beef ones at about a quarter of the price, she says.

We compared costs and found that a 500g pack of good quality mince typically costs €5 while a 500g pack of lentils costs just €1.29. Similarly a 400g tin of chickpeas costs just 59 cents while a two-pack of chicken breasts costs €3.35.

Nutritional therapist Helen Cassidy, from the Glenville Clinic chain, says there are huge health benefits associated both with eating less meat, and more vegetables.

That's because there is a 13pc higher risk of premature death from eating a daily portion of red meat – increasing to 20pc if it's the processed type, such as ham and sausages, which is also clearly associated with bowel cancer.

Many people don't realise quite how much meat they eat because they only count things like steak or mince, whereas they might also be eating a ham sandwich for lunch every day, says Helen.

On the plus side, vegetarian meals also pack huge nutritional benefits as upping your vegetable intake means you'll consume more fibre, vitamins and antioxidants.

The vast majority of Irish people don't eat the recommended 25g a day of fibre, even though it helps lower cholesterol, control blood sugar and reduce gastrointestinal disease, including colorectal cancer.

And average intake of fruit and vegetables is less than half the recommended five portions a day.

Irish people are sometimes daunted by the idea of meatless meals, but a good way to start is to look at your usual repertoire of meals and adapt them, she says.

"This works particularly well for stir fries or for curries where there's already such strong flavours and you won't miss meat at all if you just throw in a tin of beans or chickpeas instead."

Vegetarian fajitas with onions, peppers and chickpeas instead of meat or frittatas with leftover roast vegetables are also great choices, while for lunch you can substitute ham with cheese, egg or peanut butter in your sandwich, and add lots of salad.

For the environment it's unquestionable that vegetarian food produces less greenhouse gas emissions – a veggie diet is estimated to have around half the carbon footprint of a meaty one.

That's mainly down to the vast quantities of climate-warming methane gas which animals emit from both ends.

A European Commission study shows that every kilo of Irish beef produces around 19kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) and every kilo of lamb produces 20.1kg of CO2.

That's relatively good by international standards – Irish beef produces a quarter as much carbon as Brazilian beef, for example, and Teagasc is working with farmers to cut this further – but it's are still way higher than Irish pork which produces 4.8kg CO2 per kilo or chicken at 3.3kg.

Irish milk, meanwhile, is an excellent low-emission choice as it produces just 1kg of CO2 per kilo, which is the lowest in Europe, while lentils, fruit, vegetables and beans are all low carbon foods.

Carbon footprints of different food

Kilos of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions per kilo of the food

Irish lamb 20.1kg

Irish beef 19kg

Irish pork 4.8kg

Irish chicken 3.3kg

Potatoes 2.9kg

Rice 2.7kg

Irish eggs 2.4kg

Nuts 2.3kg

Vegetables 2kg

Beans/tofu 2kg

Irish milk 1kg

Fruit 1kg

Lentils 0.9kg

Source: EU Commission and Environmental Working Group (US)

Bean burgers

You will need:

200g cooked chickpeas

200g cooked kidney beans

1 red and 1 yellow pepper, finely chopped

3 spring onions, finely chopped.

1 teaspoon each of ground, cumin, coriander and paprika

2 teaspoons ginger and garlic paste

100g gram (chickpea) flour

Sunflower oil for frying

Mash the chickpeas and kidney beans well in a large bowl, retaining some texture.

Heat a non-stick frying pan on a medium heat

Add the peppers, spring onions, spices, ginger, garlic paste and half the gram flour to the beans. Mix well with your hands, adding more flour if too wet.

Put the remaining flour on a plate, and shape the bean mixture into six burgers, then pat them onto the flour to coat them.

Fry until golden brown and crispy on each side.

Serve the burgers in a bun with your favourite toppings and relish.

FROM WHOLESOME: FEED YOUR FAMILY WELL FOR LESS BY CAITRíONA REDMOND. MERCIER PRESS €15.

Irish Independent

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