Adopting a plant based diet is being talked about a lot nowadays. Veganism or plant based diets is on the rise and whilst there are many benefits from a plant based diet or predominantly a plant based diet, many people find it a bit extreme to understand and adopt. This article aims to cover the basics of what it entails, the benefits and how to start it so you can see if it’s for you or not!
So, what is a plant based diet?
Plant-based diets focus solely around natural food sources such as fruit, vegetables, grains, pulses, legumes, nuts and meat substitutes such as soy, jackfruit and tempeh products. Essentially avoiding all animal based products. For some people, who have been used to eating animal products all their life it is hard to stop eating animal products such as eggs, dairy products and meat. There are also diets that are predominantly plant based but are more flexible. These include:
Vegetarian - A vegetarian is someone who does not eat any meat, poultry, fish or shellfish. Vegetarian diets contain various levels of fruits, vegetables, grains, pulses, nuts and seeds. A vegetarian diet can include eggs and dairy products.
Flexitarian - Mostly eat fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains and focus on protein from plants instead of animal products. They are flexible and will occasionally include animal products but choose to eat less processed forms.
When following a plant-based diet you broaden your fruit and vegetable consumption making it much easier to hit the recommended daily target of 5-a-day and often exceeding that. As this recommendation is met they have a high intake of fibre, vitamins and minerals such as folate and vitamin C which are crucial to everyday health and wellbeing.
It is also worth saying that just because you have a ‘plant-based’ diet does not mean it is necessarily as healthy as it should be. All things related to diet need to be balanced. Buying processed and packaged plant-based products is not the best alternative to regular diets.
An ideal plant based diet would include these 9 areas:
- Vegetables include a variety of colours providing a wide range of vitamins and minerals such as kale, beetroot, peppers, tomatoes, and cauliflower.
- Root Vegetables are also a great source of carbohydrates such as sweet potato and butternut squash.
- Legumes are high in fibre and a good plant based protein e.g chickpeas, lentils, peas and beans.
- Protein alternatives such as soy, legumes, tempeh and seitan are important as this is often a difficult food group to replace.
- Seeds are an easy snack and a great easy to add extra nutrients to a salad such as pumpkin, chai, hemp or flax. - https://www.reboot-store.co.uk/collections/nuts-seeds-and-dried-fruit
- Nuts are another plant-based protein source such as almonds, cashews, pecans and brazil.
- Healthy fats are key in a plant-based diet as well as omega-3 fatty acids including avocados, olive oil, walnuts, flaxseeds.
- Whole grains are good for helping maintain blood sugar levels and they also contain minerals such as magnesium. Brown rice, oats, buckwheat, quinoa,
- Plant-based milk is a great easy to cut out your dairy intake, it is best to choose unsweetened options but you have lots of choice from soy, almond, coconut and much more. - https://www.reboot-store.co.uk/products/plenish-organic-almond-milk-1000ml?_pos=7&_sid=0d8298754&_ss=r
What are the benefits of a plant based diet?
Being on a plant based diet helps support your immune system - very important in the current situation (COVID-19). Choosing a plant based diet helps you gain more essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals which you can struggle to get from other foods. These all help you gain a balanced diet to help you immune cells function as best they can.
“Plants give your body what it needs to help fight off infection. A plant-based diet strengthens your immune system to protect you against germs and microorganisms.” says Andrea Murray, MD Anderson health education specialist.
Gut Health and Digestion
Plants are naturally high in fiber helping you to build strong gut health. By improving your gut health you have a healthy microbiome which supports your digestive system and immunity as well and helps your body be more nutrient absorption. Fibre can also lower your cholesterol and help to stabilise blood sugar and it’s great for good bowel management.
Many people notice that after the initial 2-3 week period of going plant based, their energy levels increase noticeably. Whilst your body isn’t using up the energy to break down difficult to breakdown foods such as meat, you have energy spare in the tank to enjoy a healthier lifestyle.
Natural Weight Loss
When you choose to go plant based you reduce your risk of obesity! By swapping meat for plants you tend to lose weight. Choosing to go plant based is a choice you make to improve your health and as a side effect you may lose weight even if it was not your original goal as you are replacing certain types of fatty unhealthy foods.
A reason for the weight loss is that whole grains and vegetables are relatively low on the glycemic index — which means they’re digested more slowly — and fruit contains antioxidants and fibre, which helps prolong fullness, according to data cited in a study published in January 2016 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4699995/
Healthy for you Heart
Going plant based is better for your heart as it contains saturated fats - when eaten in excess this can contribute to different types of heart issues. A study published in August 2019 in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that eating a plant-based diet may reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 16 percent and dying of this health condition by about 31 percent. - https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/JAHA.119.012865
Eco-friendly and Sustainability
Now let's talk eco! From a water perspective it is much more efficient and cost-effective to eat plant foods than animal foods. From a greenhouse gas emissions perspective Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation.
If we eliminated meat and milk from our daily diets, we would be saving at least 50% of our water use. We could save untouched habitats and we would be creating less pollution in our waterways, streams, and oceans that indirectly threaten human, animal, and plant lives.
OK, Let's give it a try. How do I start?
Start Slow. It’s a journey not a sprint.
It is a gradual change and it does take time to change your food habits - and that is okay! It is all about making small changes one step at a time. By making small weekly changes you will begin to see realistic and sustainable change. It is difficult to change over night so don’t put pressure on it and enjoy the transition. You will begin to find new foods you enjoy and recipes to try out.
Reduce your meat consumption (Month 1)
Step one starts with reducing your meat consumption - if meat is part of your daily diet start with going meatless for just one day a week. Pick one day of the week and stick to it - remove meat for once a week for a month before moving on to give you a stable grounding. As you are more comfortable with the meat alternatives, continue to reduce the meat consumption gradually.
Add more plants (Month 2)
During your first month as you reduce meat you will naturally incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet to replace meat. But it is time to start adding more plants to your daily diet. Add a new plant based item with every meal, for example, if you have eggs on toast for breakfast why not add avocado or spinach or if you are making a curry add in some chickpeas or beans!
During this next month you can focus on trying new foods and recipes and start figuring out what you like a dislike - keep note of your favourite additions so you can end with a solid meal plan. Easy meals you can fall back on if you are stuck for ideas.
Try making one meal a day completely plant based for example lunch - every lunch you make will help you decrease your meat intake while increasing your plant intake.
Reduce meat to once a week - including fish. (Month 3 & 4)
Now you have got into a routine it is time to start really cutting down your meat intake by only eating meat once a week. Start by cutting it down day by day. Do this gradually over a two month period to make sure the change is steady making it more sustainable for long-term change.
Some easy ways to replace meat in recipes are:
- Jackfruit to make pulled pork - https://www.reboot-store.co.uk/products/organic-young-jackfruit?_pos=1&_sid=f50435a80&_ss=r
- Portobello mushrooms to make steak strips for fajitas, or to use as burger patties
- Pea protein mince for a spag bol - https://www.reboot-store.co.uk/products/profusion-protein-mince-pea-fava-120g?_pos=2&_sid=110d2c593&_ss=r
- Roast Vegan Sausages
End meat consumption and begin you dairy journey (Month 5)
Finally you should feel ready to say goodbye to meat. You have some basics on how to use plants in your meals and will have your favourite meals planned ready to create a meal plan to help you make choices which are 100% plant based.
It is much easier than you think to reduce your daily intake starting with cow's milk - find some alternative you like the taste of and use plant-based milks such as nut milks! Some people say cheese is the most difficult part but there are so many dairy free, vegan cheese options available. - https://www.reboot-store.co.uk/products/greek-style?_pos=4&_sid=c9542d8d4&_ss=r
Once you have found the options that work for you and have tried and tested them in your favourite new recipes it is time to ditch dairy.
Let's talk about eggs (Month 6)
For most people eggs are a staple in a diet, especially at breakfast time but hopefully by incorporating more plants in your diets you will have enough experience to now replace eggs with other breakfast alternatives!
Eggs in baking is something people see as a challenge but it is nothing difficult. You can use ‘flax eggs’ or ‘chai eggs’ - there are plenty of baking resources out there for egg replacement recipes.
Once you have found that there are alternatives that again, work for you, you can completely eliminate eggs for your diet too.
You have done it! How do you feel?
By this point your diet has most likely changed quite drastically, for the better. Goodbye, meat, fish, dairy and eggs! Some people go plant-based for as little as a month to help them with their health or they just want to be more eco-friendly, that is a personal choice. Make a choice based on what you think is best for your body and remember it is the small changes we make over time that really do matter.
It’s important to remember that whatever your experience and success is on this journey, a small change to reduce your consumption of animal products will have a positive impact on your health. For many people, going completely plant based isn’t for them. But they have reduced their animal product consumption and feel great for it.
Be great and stay healthy!
Mandeep, Reboot Health Store.
Before making any dietary changes consult your doctor or a health practitioner to get personal advice for you. This article is for educational purposes and not a recommendation.