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Vegetarian diet: How the body reacts when we don’t eat meat

For most people in Germany, meat belongs on the plate: 84 percent of adult Germans (18 to 75 years old) eat meat. This is the result of a representative survey by the opinion research institute YouGov. Around 2,000 people were surveyed in August 2023.

13 percent of Germans are already vegetarians or vegans. Unlike vegetarians, vegans not only avoid meat, but all animal products, including yogurt and eggs, for example. Almost a quarter of omnivores could imagine a vegetarian lifestyle – but point out that in addition to the taste of meat, which they would miss, it is also the fear of nutritional deficiencies that keeps them going.

All plant-based eaters and those who want to become plant-based eaters can rest assured: a vegetarian diet can be healthy in the long term. Provided that a variety of foods end up on the plate and critical nutrients are taken into account. This can be iron, for example. The body cannot absorb plant-based iron as well as that from meat. If you do not ensure that you consume enough of it, you run the risk of developing a deficiency. Vegetarians should therefore always combine plant-based iron with foods rich in vitamin C that are beneficial for iron absorption. Around the world, some places highlight the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, for example in Norway, the USA and Saudi Arabia, as one shows. In general, such nutritional recommendations are aimed at healthy adults.

Vegetarian, vegan, plant-based

The German Nutrition Society (DGE) recently recommended a plant-based diet and advised eating significantly fewer animal products than before. The DGE now recommends a maximum of 300 grams of meat per week for an adult – that is, one schnitzel and five slices of sausage. The DGE’s nutritional recommendations are published in , which takes into account not only the latest nutritional findings but also eating habits, the effects on health and environmental aspects. However, most Germans are still a long way from just 300 grams of meat per week: on average, German citizens consume over a kilo of meat per person per week, according to the .

In a study in which the test subjects were observed for around ten years, it was found that a healthy plant-based diet is associated with, among other things, a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. But, and this should be explicitly pointed out: Those who avoid meat but consume a lot of processed products, sugary sodas and packaged snacks have no advantages whatsoever.

Vegans and vegetarians often not only behave healthier in terms of diet, they also drink less alcohol, do not smoke and are more physically active than the average eaters in Germany. This makes it difficult to identify the effect of diet on health alone,

But what happens in the body when meat is completely eliminated from the diet?

Most studies on eating habits have such weaknesses: In order to make clear statements about the effect, controlled studies would be necessary, i.e. two groups that only differ in that one eats meat and the other does not. Otherwise, they would have to behave exactly the same: do the same amount of sport, consume the same amounts of alcohol and have a similar level of stress. An experimental design that is hardly feasible in practice – except for a few studies with pairs of twins.

Nevertheless, studies based on large data sets or different studies on the effects of meat consumption around the world that have reached similar conclusions have shown links between meat consumption and health. It is undisputed that eating red meat can increase the risk of cancer.

You can find out more about what happens in the body when you give up meat in the picture gallery above!

Source: Stern

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