Hart says this is something she hears from clients a lot. The blood tests which test iron levels are measured using a bell curve, which means it’s possible to have very low iron levels but be within the “normal range”.
“You could be at the bottom end of normal within a normal range, but it’s just sitting at a very low end without being anaemic. Then when you go back to eating [meat], you come further into the bell curve.
“It wasn’t that you were anaemic, you were just at the bottom end of it. So all of a sudden you start feeling like, ‘Oh, I don’t get headaches anymore and I’m not so tired and my immune system’s better’ and there are all these benefits that come,” she said.
Eating ‘healthy’ is a lot easier
This might sound like a bit of an oxymoron given there are endless diseases and health risks linked to eating meat. But for me, it’s made me eat better.
When I first became vegetarian there weren’t many plant-based “meat” alternatives available. At the time, the only alternatives were beans, legumes and tofu.
But as more and more people started eating plant-based, the alternative meat market exploded and suddenly there were vegetarian substitutes for every meat imaginable.
These highly processed alternatives quickly became a staple in my diet and while they might look and taste like meat, they aren’t.
A recent University of Auckland study highlighted just how highly processed a lot of plant-based alternatives are and prompted calls for a health star rating system for them.
“They’ve gone through a lot of processing to look like burgers and sausages, that type of thing. Salt is often added – well, salt is always added in this kind of process,” said report co-author Sally Mackay.
The researchers sampled 201 legume options and alternative meat products and found falafel mix had the highest amount of energy, while baked beans had the lowest – but also the lowest amount of protein.
Meat-free sausages meanwhile had high levels of sodium and saturated fats, whereas tofu was an excellent all-rounder.
But it’s the can in a tin – or dried lentils in a bag – that really put the meat alternatives to shame.
Now, could I have eaten less fake meat and more chickpeas? Sure, but there are only so many times someone can have beans when they want a burger before they lose their mind.
My overreliance on plant-based meats also meant I was never properly full after eating and would inevitably find myself hungry again 20 minutes later.
Hart says this is something she hears from clients a lot and highlights that being a happy and healthy vegetarian takes work.
“We see this more in the younger generation because they are living life fast and forging ahead with careers or education and travelling and doing all these things so they don’t have the time to actually do the meal prep that often needs to happen if you’re going to be a healthy vegetarian.”
But Hart says this doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be vegetarian, or that it’s not a healthier option, it just means people need to make sure they’re eating the right foods.
Eating mostly plant-based has been linked to a lower risk of a slew of diseases so if done right, it can be a fantastic choice, she says.
“If you’re doing really well as a vegetarian and eating a diverse range of beans and legumes and tofu and those kinds of things, you are going to be okay,” she said.
“We know that vegetarians or people with a plant-focused diet tend to have a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and all those other metabolic disorders.”