If you have heard about a "Plant Based Diet" and confused as to what this exactly means, and why would you do this, this article will explore the pros and cons of going exclusively plant based.
This does not have to be a vegan diet.
A vegan diet is one that is strictly plants and nothing else, however a plant based diet is one that focuses on predominately plant foods. People will adopt this way of eating for a variety of reasons, including health, environmental, and ethical. All three of these reasons are valid and are considered when making the decision to incorporating more plants in your diet.
Why labelling your diet can cause more harm that health.
The first thing I would recommend when you choose to eat more plants is to not make a big deal about it, and not become a vegetarian or a vegan.
When we put a label on our diet we then become restrictive which can lead to disordered eating, and unhelpful thoughts regarding food.
The most important thing is to remember all food is just that, it is food. Meat, cheese, milk, eggs, and fish have an important role in our diets, Including the social interactions we have with people and sharing food. When we become so restrictive in our eating, and we begin to miss out on social occasions because we are worried about what food is going to be served up, it can cause social anxiety, depression, and become isolating. These issues are more unhealthy than avoiding the food in the first place, therefore giving yourself permission to eat all foods, with no guilt, and enjoy it in that situation is the best advice I can give.
Plant foods are absolutely healthy for you. The wider variety you eat the better for you. Eating all of the colours, different nuts, a variety of seeds, seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole-grains and legumes. There is new research suggesting 30 different plants per week is great for health, particularly GUT health. Even more reason to increase plant foods in your diet.
And by incorporating 30+ is where you can get creative with your cooking!
By learning how to use legumes (lentils, chickpeas and beans) will open your culinary creative juices to a new level of kitchen yumminess that will blow your mind!
Legumes are packed with protein and fibre, and used in-place of meat can add new textures and tastes that will make your taste buds salivate in delight.
Legumes are surprisingly easy to prepare, if you buy canned legumes, you simply need to drain and rinse in cold water then add them to your meal. They are cheap, between $1-$2 a can. And versatile, as you can use them in curries, Italian meals, Mexican dishes, burgers, and soups.
Nuts and seeds are an excellent way to increase the amount of plants in your diet, and adding them to salads, give more texture and crunch to a leafy green salad. By lightly toasting your seeds in a dry frying pan will give the seeds an extra nuttiness.
Please don't give up fruit! Fruit is an amazing source of vitamins fibre and phytonutrients that are essential for health. Not to mention they are a taste sensation that provide sweetness and juiciness that delight the senses.
5 serves of vegetables every day. This is achievable when we add a vegetable where we can during the day, perhaps carrot sticks, celery sticks, or capsicum dipped in hummus for a snack, or adding spinach and mushrooms to your eggs on toast in the morning. there are lots of delicious ways to increase your vegetable intake. Also each different colour of vegetable counts as a different plant for your 30+ for example a green, red and orange capsicum are 3 different types.
And yes bread... its great! I am talking about the grainy stuff, the wholemeal with seeds, the sourdough thats packed with different grains and perhaps has olives sprinkled through. The more types of grains in your bread the more it counts to the 30+ plant types for your week.
Eating more plants is going to reduce your carbon foot print, however we still need to consider where the food was produced, and how many kilometres it travelled to get to your plate. Unfortunately much of our food supply is sourced overseas, even things that are produced locally. Tomatoes in cans for example. The cheaper ones are from Italy usually for $1 per can, but the tomatoes that are made here in New Zealand, are about $1.40 -$2.50 per can. So we the consumer need to make a conscious decision what one to buy.
Fashionable foods such as Acai and Goji are typically sourced from places like South America, and China and are extremely expensive, but with their "superfood" status people love to buy them. I can promise you eating NZ grown Kiwifruit and Blueberries and strawberries are just as "super" and have a much lower cost to the environment and your pocket. However most of the frozen berries that we get at the supermarket are also sourced from places like China. It seems it is hard to get away from imported foods, but I do believe the more we are aware of where our food comes from the more conscious we can be in our decision making at the supermarket.
Packaging is also another huge factor when it comes to environmental issues and food. This week in New Zealand the government as taken another step to reducing single use plastic and this is a great initiative. I do believe we as consumers will adapt to the changes and reduce the plastic that is ending up in the environment.
We are lucky in New Zealand as far as the plastic pollution is mostly contained in landfill and not so obvious, however those of us who have travelled particularly to places in Asia have experienced the devastating effect that plastic has on our waterways. It is a real threat and we all need to have a responsibility in reducing plastic.
Some people will reduce their meat intake for ethical reasons, such as animal welfare. This is a justified decision and one that should be applauded rather than mocked. I do feel that people who tease and make fun of the people who decide to not eat meat for ethical reasons need to realise that mocking people for being caring and empathetic is quite mean and unjust. However I do realise that some people who follow a vegan diet can be just as opinionated and cause chaos in their own right. And this goes back to what I said in the beginning about food rules. Food is food, no right or wrong.
We can all have our opinions and reasons about food and why we choose to eat the food we eat. It is very personal, and what is right for one is not right for another.
So if I am to speak ethically about food choice as a dietitian in a blog about what you should eat, I do not believe I can. Because everyone is different with different needs.
This is why in a clinical setting when I give out food advice and help people achieve nutritional adequacy, I need to get to know a person, their needs, likes, and dislikes. I need to know their beliefs, and their background. My beliefs or likes and dislikes have nothing to do with you, and I should never say my way of eating is the best way.
So if you take anything from this article just know this.
1. Food is just food
2. Plant foods are very very good for you.
3. You don't need to be vegan or vegetarian to be healthy.
4. If you need advice see a dietitian. We are trained to give you personalised advice that considers your medical needs, your personal goals, beliefs, and preferences.