Whether you follow a vegan diet or enjoy your meat and two veg, no doubt you’ve been exposed to news about the benefits of a plant-based diet.
100% plant-based eating excludes meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, animal fats, gelatine and honey. This can be restrictive and challenging for some, and it’s best to plan wisely to ensure you get all the nutrients you need. Some food manufacturers are now adding key nutrients such as iodine, vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin B12 to vegan foods to help avoid deficiency.
As an alternative, many people are moving towards plant-based diets, and there is a whole spectrum of ways you can enjoy more plant-based foods without going completely vegan.
Here we give you a summary of what plant-based eating is about, and offer simple steps to help you get a good range of nutrients, if you wish to include more plant-based foods into your everyday meal plans.
5 health benefits
Studies suggest that people who eat more plant-based foods tend to have:
1. Reduced risks of heart disease
2. Reduced risks of type 2 diabetes
3. Reduced risks of some cancers
4. Lower blood cholesterol levels
5. Lower blood pressure
It can also be good for the planet!
5 nutrition benefits
In terms of nutrition, eating more plant-based foods is a no-brainer. Here’s a snippet of how the nutritional value of your diet can improve:
1. Higher in fibre – from fruit, vegetables and legumes
2. Higher in “good fats” – from avocadoes, nuts and seeds
3. Lower in saturated fats
4. Easier to get your “5-a-day”
5. Can be less processed – if you eat more home cooked foods, fresh vegetables and salads
Plant-based eating needs to be carefully planned, and it’s important to ensure you’re getting the balance right.
1. Iodine is abundant in fish and dairy foods – in fact around a third of the UK’s iodine intake comes from dairy. WHO classes the UK as mildly iodine deficient. So, check labels for iodine-fortified dairy alternatives.
2. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products, so you if you’re on a vegan diet, choose fortified foods and consider a supplement.
3. Meat is a rich source of iron. You need iron for healthy red blood cells and it contributes to the transport of oxygen around the body, so if you’re low in iron you can become short of breath, and feel tired. If you’re eating vegetarian sources of iron, have some vitamin C, for example as a citrus dressed salad, or a small glass of fruit juice, to help your body absorb the iron.
How to get your proteins
Plant proteins are found in legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds. Check out our handy protein guide below which compares the amount of protein in a range of plant foods. Note that soya beans have a higher quality of protein than most other beans and lentils.
Written by Azmina Govindji, Consultant Nutritionist & Registered Dietitian
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WHO, UNICEF, & ICCIDD. Assessment of iodine deficiency disorders and monitoring their elimination. WHO; Geneva: 2007