Steak or tofu?

IF YOU love a big, juicy steak, should you stop it already?

Or is meat eating just as good for you as tucking into a plate of veggies?

The barbecue lover versus the vegetarian debate is one that isn't going to go away.

It's recently been revived by the argument about meat production and sustainability.

In the Medical Journal of Australia in 2012, dietitian Rosemary Stanton said the current world food system is inequitable and unsustainable.

Climate change will add pressure to food production, especially if the surging populations in developing countries aspire to a Western-style diet with its high animal content, she said.

"The modern Western diet also plays a major role in the increasing incidence of non-communicable diseases, which are currently responsible for 63% of deaths throughout the world," Ms Stanton said.

In general, plants are associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions than meat.

A Meatless Mondays movement began in 2003, which is now promoted by many groups in Europe, Japan, the US, Britain, Canada, Israel and Australia.

"Not everyone needs or wants to become vegetarian, but reducing our dependence on meat is a good recipe for our own health and also that of our planet," Ms Stanton said.

Certainly eating a bit less meat is a good idea if you care about your children's future.

Figures from the Australian Conservation Foundation show that by reducing red meat by a 150g serving a week, you would save more than 300kg of greenhouse gas pollution a year.

If all Australians were to do this, we would save more than six million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year.

Then there are the humanitarian reasons for not eating animals.

But what about the health argument?

Lean red meat is an excellent source of protein, as well as a number of B vitamins, iron, zinc and selenium, says leading Australian nutritionist Dr Mark Wahlqvist in Agefit (Pan Macmillan).

What's more, protein from animal sources contains all the essential amino acids in the right proportions for the body.

However, the Australian Vegetarian Society says that two long-term studies - a Chinese study of 6000 subjects and an English study of 11,000 - have shown fewer animal products equate with less cancer and heart disease.

Overloading on animal protein is also known to increase the risk of osteoporosis because your body steals calcium from your bones to neutralise acids created during the digestion of protein.

The current answer, then, seems to be one of balance.

* Eat less red meat and more fish and legumes.

* Eat more fruit and vegetables - numerous research studies show we don't eat enough.

* Choose fresh, natural and green; reduce saturated fats; increase good fats; drink more water.

* Find creative ways to cook fresh, delicious foods that aren't based on the old formula of meat and three vege.

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