Why is everyone going nuts about plant-based eating?
Updated: Mar 17
Vegan January or “Veganuary” dominated the media at the start of 2021 with more than 580,000 people worldwide signing-up for the 31-day vegan challenge! Spring is here and still people are talking about the benefits of including more plants in your diet. So, why is everyone going nuts about plant-based eating?
What is plant-based eating?
A plant-based diet is based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits, with few or no animal products.
Plant-based eating means introducing and increasing these plant-based foods into your diet and at the same time reducing your consumption of foods and drinks of animal origin.
What are examples of plant-based diets and what’s the difference between vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, flexitarian… confused?
The best way to understand all the different terms is to think of a “spectrum of plant-based eating”.
Vegans: Do not eat any animal products including meat, seafood, dairy, eggs and honey
Vegetarians (ovo-lacto): Do not eat any meat or seafood; do eat diary and eggs
Pescatarians: Do not eat meat; do eat seafood, diary and eggs
Flexitarians: Occasionally eat meat, seafood dairy and eggs
So, a plant-based diet may or may not include foods or drinks of animal origin. It’s up to you! There are no strict guidelines or rules; you decide where you want to be on the spectrum and where you sit on the spectrum may also change over time.
Why are people switching to a more plant-based diet?
Everyone will have different motivations for switching to a more plant-based diet, but health, the environment, sustainability, and animal welfare are the most cited reasons.
- Health benefits: plant-based diets are associated with lower rates of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, some cancers and depression compared with diets high in meat and other animal products.
- Environmental benefits: meat and dairy are the leading contributors to greenhouse (GHG) emissions. By reducing animal-based foods and choosing a wide range of plant foods it can be beneficial to the planet.
How can I introduce more plant foods in my diet? 10 tips* to get you started…
1. Start with some meat free days each week
“Meat Free Mondays” are a great start for those who usually eat meat or seafood every day. See the kidney and black bean burger below!
2. Go 50:50!
Replace half the meat in a recipe with some plant-based protein foods (eg 50% lamb: 50% tinned butter bean casserole; 50% beef and 50% lentil cottage pie; 50% chicken: 50% tofu stir fried with veg and noodles).
3. Make soups a weekly staple
From the trusty leak and potato, to a hearty mixed veg and bean, or simple frozen pea and mint, to a warming butternut squash, chilli and ginger… the list is endless.
Make at the weekend when you usually have more free time, store in the fridge and reheat during the week for a simple and easy lunch or supper served with warm wholegrain bread. Make enough to cover a couple of meals and also freeze a portion for a month or two later.
4. Fill half your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner and aim to eat the rainbow
This will mean you have at least 2 portions of veg with each meal, have lots of variety and can enjoy a colourful plate of food.
5. Experiment with nuts and seeds
Chia seeds/linseeds on muesli at breakfast; walnuts on a salad at lunch; nut butter on 2 oatcakes or apple slices as a snack.
6. Include wholegrains for breakfast and add some fruit or veg
Porridge with stewed pears/apples; wholegrain toast with poached eggs and sautéed mushrooms and tomatoes or smashed avocado.
7. Have fruit or veg ready for snack attacks!
An apple, 2 plums, handful of blueberries, 3 dried apricots etc. If fresh, try and choose seasonal produce. Frozen fruit and veg are as nutritious as fresh.
Veg sticks (eg carrots, peppers, cucumber etc) dipped into houmous.
8. Make a salad face or a Buddha bowl
Enjoy being creative… think lettuce, spinach or watercress leaves as a base, grated carrot, beetroot or cabbage for hair, slices of tomatoes for rosy cheeks, peppers for mouth, beans or peas for freckles/dimples…. Then add a source of protein (nuts/seeds, cheese, eggs, or fish etc) and a source of starchy carbohydrate (quinoa, puy lentils, pearl barley, brown rice, or a slice of wholegrain bread etc) and finally add a dressing made with olive oil.
9. Choose fruit or fruit-based desserts
The natural sugars in a ripe fruit will satisfy any post-meal sweet cravings.
Apple or rhubarb crumble with an oaty topping; banana splits with toasted nuts; frozen raspberries blended up with yoghurt and a drizzle of honey/maple syrup.
10. Taste, test and trial different fortified plant-based (soya/oat/nut/hemp) drinks
See if you can replace cow’s milk in any of your meals or drinks (eg oat milk with cereal/porridge or soya milk in coffee). Choose fortified versions.
*Some of the tips are not appropriate for vegan diets.
Here’s a Dishy Dietetics vegan plate for a little inspiration: kidney bean and black bean burgers! Go to the Dishy Dietetics Instagram account for the recipe.
Is there anything I should be aware of if I switch to a plant-based diet?
The answer to this will depend on the individual and where you sit on the spectrum of plant-based eating. A varied and well-balanced plant-based diet can provide all the key nutrients needed to keep you healthy across all life-stages. There are, however, a number of essential nutrients that it’s important to think about, especially if you choose to be vegan. These include vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron, zinc, iodine, selenium and choline.
If you want some extra dietary support with including more plants in your diet or want to check that your diet is nutritionally balanced, then book a consultation with me using the contact page at www.dishydietetics.com/contact.