Plant-based diets are steadily on the rise, due to the emerging scientific evidence supporting its benefits on health and environment.
A healthy plant-based diet consists of all minimally processed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lentils, beans, soybeans, nuts and seeds, herbs, and spices and minimal or none processed foods, oils, and animal foods (including dairy products and eggs). On the other hand, an unhealthy plant-based diet would mainly include processed foods, sugars, refined grains and unhealthy fats.
A plant-based diet is defined by what it includes.
- Vegan (or total vegetarian): A strict plant-based diet, which excludes all animal products, especially meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.
- Vegetarian (plant-based): mainly focuses on plant-based foods however, you can consume eggs, milk, cheese and other products of animals but no meat or fish.
- Pescatarian (plant-based): similar to the vegetarian one but includes fish but no meat.
- Flexitarian (plant-based): This option is great for individuals who would like to slowly move into plant-based eating without fully committing to never eat meat again. This type of diet is mainly based on plant foods, but a small portion of eggs, dairy, meat, fish, seafood or poultry can be consumed at times.
- Mediterranean: Similar to whole-foods, plant-based diet but allows small amounts of chicken, dairy products, eggs, and red meat once or twice per month. Fish and olive oil are encouraged.
Why Choose a plant- based nutrition?
- Improve your health
Plant-based diets are associated with reducing medication needs, lowering body weight, reducing risk of conditions such as obesity, hypertension, cancer, and even reversing advanced cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. These benefits are likely due to consumption of health-promoting compounds found in whole plant foods and the reduction of exposure to harmful substances found in animal products and highly processed foods.
Plant based diets have shown to be beneficial for those with obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, lipid disorders, or cardiovascular disease. However, this diet must be tailored to each individual depending on their health condition.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics “Vegetarian diets, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”
- High in Fibre
Plant foods exclusively contain two critical nutrients: fibre and phytonutrients. Consumption of vegetables, grains and beans, which will bring more fibre into your nutrition. Fibre has been found to be beneficial for gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and immune systems, while phytonutrients, such as antioxidants and other healthy compounds including carotenoids and flavonoids, helps in reducing inflammation and oxidation.
- Better weight management
In general, individuals who are on a healthy plant-based nutrition tend to consume fewer calories than individuals who consume animal protein. That is because most of their calories are coming from healthier options. Plant-based eaters tend to eat less processed foods and avoid meat focused restaurants like fast-food chain that provide unhealthy meal options.
Plant-based diets in comparison to meat-based diets are more sustainable because they utilise substantially lesser natural resources and are less taxing on the environment.
“Agricultural inputs required for producing the nonvegetarian diet are 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more primary energy, 13 times more fertilizer, and 1.4 times more pesticides than for the vegetarian diet” Marlow et.al
How to kickstart Plant-Based Eating?
Plant-based eating can be for everyone, the main idea is not to “diet” or remove something from your nutrition but more about adding more plant-based foods.
Here are 5 steps to start your plant-based eating:
Step 1: Choose your motivation
Think of a really good reason for embarking on a whole food plant-based diet so that it helps you stick to it! It could be anything such as improving your health, losing weight, saving the planet or simply feeling better, the plant-based nutrition is a great option for anyone.
Step 2: Choose Your Type
We have discussed different options of plant-based eating earlier in this article. Identify what you would like to change in your diet and the reason for doing it. Remember, adding more plant based options to your meals will help you provide with healthy fibre and nutrients.
Step 3: Plan Your Meals
One of the most difficult parts about adapting to plant-based eating is to adopt new habits in the kitchen. Start looking for exciting recipes. Plan your meals ahead since planning and preparation will be the key to success.
Step 4: Make Your Grocery List
It is strongly recommended to try new recipes as opposed to try to adapt your old recipes to a plant-based nutrition. This will help you to ease yourself into plant-based eating. Try to include more fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, spices on your grocery list.
Step 5: Implement the Changes
Once you have planned for the week and shopped your ingredients, it’s time to get in the kitchen and experiment with new recipes. Take small steps and go slow as this will give you a chance to learn new recipes, improve your plant-based cooking, and even cherish new way of cooking!
Some tips to implement the change:
- Cut down on meat consumption
- Switch to plant-based alternatives to dairy such as soy milk, coconut yoghurt
- Add more plant-based foods in your diet such as nuts/seeds for snacks
A healthy plant-based diet, which comes with many health benefits including prevention of high-risk chronic conditions, can be easily incorporated within your lifestyle by including a variety of fruits and vegetables, beans, legumes, seeds, nuts, and whole grains and avoiding or limiting animal products, refined and processed foods.
Swati holds an MSc in Human Nutrition from University of Chester. She is a registered nutritionist, functional medicine practitioner and licensed XPERT Diabetes and Weight Management educator.
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