Plant Based Diet – How to get started!
Plant based diets are increasing in popularity worldwide; eating less animal products and more plants seems to be the way of the future.
A predominantly plant-based diet can be good not only for your health, but also the environment, and even your bank account (if you do it properly!)
First things first…
What Is A Plant Based Diet?
A plant based diet is a diet consisting either predominantly or exclusively of plant foods. This means consuming minimal or no animal products such as meat, fish, dairy products, eggs and honey. The focus of a plant based diet is to increase the amount of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds etc in your diet, and reduce the amount of animal products.
There can be many different motivations for this diet/lifestyle change, including health reasons, environmental reasons and also ethical/animal welfare reasons.
What are the health benefits of a plant based diet?
Eating more fruit + veg (and less processed food) is a no brainer when it comes to improving your health and nutrition! As you increase the amount of plants you eat, you also naturally reduce the amount of animal products (meat, dairy and eggs) you consume. Animal products tend to be the main source of saturated fat in our diet, and are the ONLY source of chlolesterol (plants do not contain cholesterol). The reduction/elimination of animal products therefore often results in a significant reduction in our saturated fat and cholesterol intakes – which have been closely linked to negative health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease. Eating more plants means more fibre, antioxidants + prebiotics, and less cholesterol + saturated fat. Many people also find it easier to maintain a healthy body weight when eating a plant based diet, due to the fact that vegatables and fruits are less calorie dense (more volume, less calories) compared to foods like meat, dairy and processed foods + oils. This means that you feel fuller from less calories, due to the larger volume taking up more room inside your stomach. Plant based/vegan diets have long been associated with lower risks of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and all cause mortality.
Answering some common questions!
Can I get enough protein without eating animal products?
Absolutely! All protein originates from plants – cows, sheep, chickens etc all eat plants (containing protein) to grow, and then we as humans eat those animals to get protein. But instead of filtering plant protein through animals, it makes sense to go straight to the source ourselves! All plants contain protein (amino acids), even vegetables and fruits! There are plant foods that are high in protein and make great substitues for animal proteins in recipes. E.g. beans, lentils, soy, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, even some grains and vegetables. Plant based protein powders are also a great convenient tool to ensure you are hitting your daily protein targets.
Can I get enough of important nutrients like Iron & Calcium?
Many people worry that without red meat or dairy products, they will become deficient in iron or calcium. Of course there are some people who do struggle to maintain healthy iron levels (regardless of if they consume animal products or not) – but as a whole, people who are eating a well-balanced plant based diet should be able to meet these nutrient requirements without any worries. Examples of iron rich plant foods are: soy, tofu, white beans, green lentils, chickpeas & spinach. Good plant sources of calcium are: soy milk, tofu, white beans, spinach, tahini, chia seeds, broccoli and more. (see infographics below for more info!)
What about Vitamin B12? Can I actually get this from plants?
These days, B12 is almost exclusively found in animal products (due to animals being supplemented); so for people chosing to follow a plant-based diet – a B12 supplement is highly recommended. Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria, so previous generations got B12 from unsterilised soil (which plants were grown in) and water, but now that our water & food supply is almost completely sterilised, we struggle to get sufficient B12 from plants! Many food products in the supermarkets are now being fortified with B12 in an attempt to increase population B12 intake – but the only reliable and measured way to ensure you are getting enough B12 to meet your daily requirements is to take a regular supplement.