the trouble with being a meat-head

the trouble with being a meat-head

If I asked you how often you eat a meat free meal, what would your answer be? If you're anything like I was just a year ago, your answer will be hardly ever! Maybe just at breakfast?

It's fair to say that my obsession with meat was a little bigger than most. It started at university when I was striving to play for the university rugby team. Competition for places was tough but I was desperate to break into the first team.

The modern day game is largely based around speed, power and strength. I've always been fairly fast and I'd never say I was skinny, but compared to some of the players I was up against it sometimes felt like David versus Goliath! I checked the rulebook and as expected, catapulting stones was out of the question so I decided my best option was to bulk up.

A week later I had a gym routine in place and had started eating the local butcher out of house and home. I was eating four main meals a day, three of which contained some sort of meat. And it wasn't just me. I lived with five other rugby players all striving for a spot in the first team and come dinnertime we were like a pack of hungry wolves.

As the months went by I was getting stronger and I was packing on more and more muscle. My body mass increased from 85kg to 95kg - quite heavy for someone who's only 5'8.

I'd lost a bit of pace with the extra bulk but I was a lot stronger. In fact I was relishing playing against the Goliaths to show them what I could do and I finally broke my way into the first team. Result!

It was ingrained into us that in order to maintain body mass we needed to keep training hard and consume a lot of meat. So it wasn't until I joined VTV that I began to wonder if eating so much meat was such a good idea. Was the desire to be bigger and stronger damaging to a rugby player's long-term health?

When I first came up to London money was tight and my partner Sheree was looking for work, so we moved in with Alex until we found our feet. Obviously living together we all mucked in with the cooking and this particular evening was Alex's turn (although give him half a chance and he'll cook every evening). I ventured into the kitchen to see what he was rustling up. A CAULIFLOWER STIR FRY??? To say I was disappointed was an understatement!

Luckily I'm not a fussy eater so, despite some trepidation, I got stuck in and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised! But I was curious to know why Alex would choose to cook a dish without meat. After all, he isn't vegetarian.

As he described the health benefits of a low meat diet it began to dawn on me that I had been putting myself at potential risk and that there are multiple health benefits associated with eating less meat. This Harvard University study found that replacing foods rich in saturated fat such as meat, with foods that are rich in polyunsaturated fat such as nuts and seeds, reduces the risk of coronary heart disease.

Another study by Imperial College, London suggests a link between high meat consumption and rates of obesity.

There is also evidence to suggest that high consumption of red and processed meat increases the risk of cancer and the chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

Many of us don't realise what affect a high meat diet can have on our digestive system. The extra animal protein puts added stress on our kidneys and liver and can affect the body's ability to deal with waste products, especially if these systems are already not functioning well. Over time this can lead to complications, potentially resulting in kidney and liver disease. Worrying stuff!

And it's not only our health that's affected! According to the environmental working group (EWG) the production, processing and distribution of meat generates greenhouse gases, toxic manure and wastewater as a result of the mass use of pesticides, fertilizer, fuel, feed and water. I was shocked to learn that the meat production industry contributes to one fifth of manmade carbon emissions. Far more than just the transportation! This article states that if a four person family takes steak off the menu one night a week over the course of a year, this would be the equivalent of taking their car off road for 3 months. A pretty incredible statistic don't you think?

So what changes have I made? Well I still eat meat most days but now it's one small portion with my evening meal, a drastic change from my previous diet when I would eat a much bigger portion with every meal. And once or twice a week I have a vegetarian evening meal.

I still play rugby and train hard but I've found many other sources of protein to help me maintain my muscle mass. Nuts, seeds, yoghurt, nut butters, eggs, milk and beans are all great sources of protein that I eat now.

I still love to eat meat but it's a fraction of what I used to eat. If you're a fellow meat eater, I hope you will take a look at the amount of meat you currently eat and consider the effect it's having on your health and the environment. If I can reduce the amount of meat I'm eating then I'm pretty sure you can too!

If you're stuck for alternatives there are plenty of tasty veggie recipes on the site

And start small. Just having one meat free day a week can have a huge impact. I came across this great organisation promoting one meatless day a week called Meatless Mondays. Why not give it a go and see how you get on?

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Tom Davies
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