Would you consider a plant-based diet? We talk to a dietitian about the best way to do this.
# 1 plant-based eating is the same as vegan or vegetarianism
Despite what you may have heard, a plant-based diet is inherently different from a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Vegan diets exclude animal products in their entirety, vegetarian diets are plant-centered and take into account animal products such as milk, eggs and cheese (the amount and type depend on the individual preference), whereas a plant-based diet is a style of eating where plants form the basis of the diet but animal products in all their forms are not omitted.
Like what you see? Subscribe to our newsletter bodyandsoul.com.au for more stories like this.
The words vegan, vegetarian, and herbal tend to be used interchangeably as the herbal definition is a bit vague and subjective. As a dietitian, I am a strong advocate of a plant-based eating style!
After all, some of the most studied and beneficial diets in the world are built around plants – that is, the Mediterranean diet. Most of us should prioritize including more plants in our diet, but animal products don’t need to be eliminated completely to lead healthy lives.
# 2 Vegetal automatically means nutritious
Plant foods are among the most nutritious foods; think fruits, vegetables, lentils, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Most plant foods contain an abundance of fiber to support our digestive health, prebiotics to fuel our healthy gut insects, and a range of various vitamins and minerals that aid in all of our bodily processes.
Plant foods will also contain either a combination of our three macronutrients or a single isolated macronutrient. Nuts, for example, contain carbohydrates for sustained energy, heart-healthy fats, and plant proteins to increase satiety and help regulate blood sugar. In contrast, many foods that lack nutritional value can also be classified as plant-based.
These can include hot crisps, lollipops, and highly processed “fake meats” that contain high amounts of salt, saturated fat, and / or sugar.
Also, substituting an ingredient of animal origin for an ingredient of plant origin in a cake, donut, baked goods, chocolate product, ice cream or other confectionery item does not automatically make it healthy. It is not about creating shame around these foods (in their traditional or vegan form) because there is room for all the foods in our diet, it is rather about educating yourself on the power of ‘smart marketing.
# 3 It’s hard to meet your protein needs with a plant-based diet
There is a common misconception that it is difficult to meet your protein needs on a plant-based diet. Depending on whether or not you have removed animal products, it can be very easy to meet your daily protein needs with special attention.
Plant foods such as lentils, legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds, plant-based milks such as Inside-Out’s Milkish range and whole grains such as oats, quinoa and Buckwheat are all plant sources of protein. The idea that plant protein is inferior to animal protein because it does not contain all nine essential amino acids is false and misleading.
A carefully planned diet that contains a variety of plant proteins at different times of the day is more than enough for you to get the protein your body needs adequately.
Most of the time, protein needs can be met by food alone, but if you find tough protein powders a much needed option.
# 4 Plants aren’t filling up or satisfying enough
Nutritious plant foods contain nutrients scientifically proven to keep you full. Generally speaking, plant-based diets that are well balanced and contain a variety of foods and nutrients are perceived to be more satisfying than traditional animal-based diets.
This is because plant foods (as mentioned earlier) are a rich source of dietary fiber, slow release carbohydrates, and plant protein or healthy fats.
Fiber slows down our gastric emptying, allowing us to stay full longer, slow-burning carbohydrates release glucose into the blood at a slow and steady rate for sustained energy and appetite, vegetable protein and healthy fats are digested at a relatively slow rate which also increase satiety too.
My advice, do your best to include a source of slow release carbohydrates, plant protein, healthy fats, and fiber in most main meals. You won’t always get it perfect (no one does), but it’s essential to think about the different nutrients that make up meals and snacks to make them more filling and satisfying.
# 5 Plant-based diets are too restrictive
As you can see, most of the foods that make up (or should make up) the majority of our diet are derived from plants (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lentils, legumes, and whole grains).
Since vegan diets exclude animal products, food choices can be somewhat limited, but not so much that they seem restrictive and unsustainable. Our food system is constantly evolving and adapting so much to the different dietary patterns that emerge in society, that there are now more options for plant eaters than ever before.
For example, if you choose not to consume dairy products, opting for a plant-based milk alternative like Inside Out’s almond and oat milks that are fortified with calcium will still provide you with some of the macro and micronutrients that you would find in milk based milks.
Sometimes all you need is a little inspiration and creativity.
# 6 plant-based foods are too expensive
If your plant-based diet consists mostly of organic fake meats, prepackaged meals, vegan chocolate, cashew ice cream, dairy-free cheeses and the like, then of course it will get expensive.
On the other hand, if your plant-based diet centers on fresh fruits and vegetables, canned lentils and legumes, nuts and seeds, shelf-stable milk substitutes, and whole grains like flakes. oats, rice, and pasta (to name a few) you can keep costs down. Try to buy grains, cereals, and nuts / seeds in bulk to cut expenses where you can, and keep in mind that “healthy” foods aren’t always what they say they are.
My advice, keep it simple!
# 7 Plant-based diets are not sustainable
A carefully thought-out plant-based diet that contains a variety of delicious foods is sustainable. A diet that restricts calories and wellness foods, whether plant-based or not, is not sustainable.
As you can see, plant-based diets allow for many different foods and food groups, all of which contribute to a sustainable and enjoyable diet.
If you deprive yourself of your favorite foods (yes, that includes hot chips and chocolate) then you’ll feel deflated, sad, and hungry – not ideal!
To make a diet sustainable, it must be enjoyable, don’t forget that!
# 8 you can’t get enough iron and B12 on a plant-based diet
Since iron and vitamin B12 are commonly found in animal products, it is believed that following a plant-based diet (either entirely or mainly) can make it difficult to consume enough of these essential nutrients.
Many plant-based foods are high in iron, such as lentils, legumes, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, tofu, and fortified grains and products. Including these foods regularly will help you meet your iron needs.
B12 on the other hand is a bit more difficult to obtain. However, you can find products fortified with B12 like the Milkish line from Inside Out. 1 glass of their oat or almond milk will give you 50% of your required B12!
If you suspect iron or vitamin B12 deficiency, please seek medical advice / dietitian to have your blood monitored and prescribe an appropriate supplementation regimen if necessary.