What is a plant-based diet?

With celebrities, athletes, and even some political figures going vegan, it is worth exploring how we as individuals can start to improve our way of eating.

There has recently been a great deal of media focus on sustainable eating and how the meat and dairy industry are major contributors to greenhouse emissions. It, therefore, makes sense to explore a reduction in our consumption of animal-based foods and instead choose a wide range of plant foods to benefit not just our planet but our health.

What is a plant-based diet?

This a diet that is based on foods derived from plants, including legumes/pulses, vegetables, whole-grains, nuts, seeds, and fruit. They must be well planned to ensure that we obtain a wide variation in nutrients necessary to support healthy living.

Don't be tempted to just buy processed vegan foods without checking out the ingredients first.

What are the benefits of a plant-based diet?

This type of diet tends to cut out unhealthy items, such as added sugars, refined grains, and saturated fats. It has been linked to several health benefits, including reducing your risk of;

  • heart disease
  • certain cancers
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • cognitive decline

Meat and dairy can increase the body’s inflammatory response which can make certain health conditions worse.

A recent study published in the journal Nutrients detailed the experience of a young man with Crohn’s disease who achieved complete remission after eliminating meats and processed foods while he adopted a plant-based diet.

Can I lose weight on a plant-based diet?

A higher fibre content, combined with excluding processed foods, is a fabulous combination for shedding excess pounds!

A review of 12 studies that included more than 1,100 people found that those assigned to plant-based diets lost significantly more weight - about 4.5 pounds (2kg) over an average of 18 weeks - than those assigned to non-vegetarian diets.

How do I get my protein?

Plant-based sources of protein include lentils, beans, chickpeas, seeds, nuts and nut butter, and tofu. Eggs and dairy are also good sources if you are eating these.

Meat substitutes like vegetarian burgers, soya sausages, and other meat alternatives can be useful for those who are adapting to a plant-based diet and can also provide a source of protein.

However, as with any processed foods, these can sometimes be high in salt and fat so should be used in moderation. These products may also contain animal ingredients such as eggs, milk derivatives, and honey.

Does that mean I can’t eat meat?

No, it does not mean that you cannot ever eat meat. Being plant-based means that you are seeking to obtain a high proportion of your diet through plants but not necessarily exclusively. Some people choose to have meat-free days; others to only eat meat once a week or once a month, etc.

So, a wholefood, plant-based diet is very flexible. The idea is to eat mainly plants, but animal products are not off-limits.

Types of plant-based diets can include;

  • Lacto-Ovo vegetarians - eat dairy foods and eggs but do not eat meat, poultry, or seafood
  • Ovo-vegetarians - include eggs but avoid all other animal foods, including dairy
  • Lacto-vegetarians - eat dairy foods but exclude eggs, meat, poultry, and seafood
  • vegans - don’t eat any animal products at all, including honey, dairy, and eggs

Variations of plant-based diets include;

  •  pescetarians - eat fish and/or shellfish
  •  semi-vegetarians (or flexitarians) - occasionally eat meat, poultry, or fish

Planning your diet for optimum health

Here are seven simple tips to help you make that transition to a wholesome, plant-based diet;

1. Start slow; don't try and cut out everything in one go.

2. Cut down on your meat and processed food intake initially.

3. Go for a plant-based breakfast as a quick way to get things rolling.

4. Watch your protein intake carefully and understand your pulses.

5. Know your food intake and make a note.

6. Stock up on healthy foods that contain the nutrients you need.

7. Keep your meals fun and exciting; lookup online recipes.

To make sure that you have planned your change in eating correctly, it may be beneficial to seek the help of a registered nutritionist.

Always remember to make sure that you're getting enough;

  • protein
  • iron
  • B12
  • omega 3 fatty acids
  • choline
  • calcium
  • selenium

Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Hayley Smith

I am a Registered Assoc Nutritionist. I work as a Weight Management & Food-wellness coach at my home clinic Great Dunmow & Springfield Hospital Chelmsford.

Specialisms include:
Weight Loss & Healthy Eating
Eating disorders
Blood sugars & BP
Inflammation & Gut Health
Lowering blood sugar, cholesterol levels & cardiovascular risk
Eating disorders… Read more

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