Plant-based Diet - A Starter Guide

By Vega, categorized in Stylish Science

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Plant-based foods aren’t just for vegans and vegetarians anymore! More and more people are fuelling their busy lives with plant-based foods. Whatever your inspiration, and whatever your goal, we are here to help you figure out the best way to fit more plant-based foods into your lifestyle. This starter guide is one small way Vega is working to empower you to #FuelYourFeelGood!

What is a plant-based diet?

At first glance, the term “plant-based diet” might seem self-explanatory—to eat a diet based on plant foods (in contrast to the standard western diet that’s largely focused on animal-based foods). As a term, “plant-based diet” is often used interchangeably with “vegan” (a diet and lifestyle that tends to avoid all animal products in food, cosmetics, and clothing). But while those who identify as vegan eat an exclusively plant-based diet by definition, eating a plant-based diet can fall along a spectrum, with as many variations as there are people to make choices about food.

Participating in Meatless Monday or going plant-based before 6pm is just one end of the plant-based eating spectrum. The spectrum continues to individuals who may identify as a flexitarian, eating a plant-based diet with the addition of animal products every now and then. The furthest end of the spectrum is those who commit to a completely vegan diet, excluding all animal products entirely. We’re not fans of narrow definitions and welcome everyone—no matter where you fall on the plant-based diet spectrum. Because whether you’re adding one new plant-based food or 20, there are benefits to be found from making plant-based foods a bigger part of your life. That’s the beauty of plant-based eating, there are no rules!

But why would you choose a plant-based diet? Well, there are many reasons you may decide to add more plant power to your diet, but health and sustainability are two of the largest benefits.

Go plant-based for you

Eat your veggies! Compared to the average Western diet, plant-based diets are rich in everything you’ve been told to eat more of: fibre from fruits and vegetables, and fats from nuts and seeds—while generally low in the saturated fat that animal based foods can be rich in.

Go plant-based for the planet

Not only is plant-based eating better for our health, it is more sustainable for the planet. So, while you’re feeling good about treating your body well, go ahead and give yourself another pat on the back for helping out planet earth too. While using reusable bags, recycling and walking more are now almost (wonderfully) the norm, not everyone realises the impact diet has on the planet.

Worldwide, livestock is one of the largest contributors to environmental problems due to deforestation, desertification, overuse of freshwater, inefficient use of energy, diverting food for use as feed and emission of greenhouse gases. 1 Overall plant-based diets require less land and are more sustainable—an equivalent amount of animal-based protein requires 6 to 17 times the amount of land, 2 26 times as much water, 3 and 2.5 to 50 times the fossil fuels 3 of plant-based protein.

Simply swapping out some animal protein staples for plant-based beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains can have a huge impact on your carbon footprint. While eating locally and seasonally is important, incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet has an even greater environmental impact. 4

Meeting your nutritional needs with a plant-based diet

If the many benefits of a plant-based diet have inspired you to step into the spectrum of plant-based eating, you may still have some questions about whether or not you can meet your nutrient needs from plant-based foods.  Let’s face it, you’re going to get the “how do you get enough protein?” question, whether you like it or not. However by reading on you will gain the nutritional know-how to dismiss the sceptics. They might even learn a thing or two! Before we go on though, let’s be clear, while chips are vegan, when we say plant-based, we’re usually talking about nutrient dense, whole foods.

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What types of protein, carbohydrates and fats should I eat?

Protein

Protein, composed of amino acids, plays many structural roles in your body, for all cells and enzymes, beyond just being the building blocks of muscle. 5 Meat, eggs and dairy may be your current protein staples, but it’s time to let nuts, seeds, and legumes have the spotlight.

You can also stop worrying about not getting complete protein. While not all plant-based sources of protein contain all essential amino acids, this can be overcome by combining different sources of plant-based protein throughout the day. If you eat a variety of plant-based food ingredients their amino acid profiles will complement each other, so you can sleep soundly at night knowing that you are getting all of the essential amino acids your body needs.

Take a look at our delicious Vega® Essentials and Vega® Clean* Protein for a complete multisource plant-based protein blend containing 20 g and 25 g of plant-based protein respectively. These can be a great way to increase the protein content in your normal everyday diet by adding a scoop into your breakfast smoothie, or even in some delicious pancakes!

Carbohydrates

From grains to root vegetables to fruit, the plant kingdom has many carbohydrates to choose from. Luckily, if you’re choosing nutrient dense whole foods, you’re getting the best type of carbohydrates—carbs that are minimally-refined and generally have a lower glycaemic index than their more refined counterparts.

Fruit provides instant bursts of energy, while whole grains provide more slow-release energy. Fibre even helps to lower the glycaemic index of a food 5 and it’s recommended that you eat at least 30 g of fibre a day. Vega® Essentials is high in fibre, providing 4 g per serving, and you can easily reach 30 g by combining it with whole grains, fruit and vegetables throughout the day.

Fat

Make “fat doesn’t make me fat” your new catchphrase. While dietary fat is rich in calories, it’s also a key component of hormone function, as well as playing an important role in the digestion and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). 5 What matters is the type of fat you consume.

Plant-based sources of dietary fat are richer in unsaturated fat. Nuts, avocados, seeds and cold-pressed oils have unsaturated fat. Another important type of fat is the essential Omega oils. 6 We call fats like Omega-3 essential because they cannot be synthesized by your body, so you must consume them through food. While salmon may be the first food that comes to mind when you think of Omega-3, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts are all sources of this good (and essential!) fat.

Vitamins and minerals

While required in much smaller amounts than macronutrients (carbs, fats, proteins), micronutrients are vital to health. Luckily, almost all vitamins and minerals are easy to find on a balanced plant-based diet. For those who are completely plant-based, vitamins B12 and D, calcium and iron can be particular nutrients of concern, since they are only found in a handful of plant-based foods. But no need to worry—with awareness and a little planning, deficiencies will be the last thing you need to fret about.

Vitamin B12 5

Slightly harder to find on a plant-based diet than other micronutrients, vitamin B12 is important. Luckily, you can find B12 in nutritional yeast, and Vega® Essentials is high in 13 essential vitamins (including B12) as well as calcium, iron and phosphorus!

Vitamin D 5

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, build strong bones, and maintain normal muscle function. Your body can synthesize its own vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but if you’re working in an office all day, or live at northern latitudes, it’s best to supplement your diet. Vitamin D is found in nutritional yeast, chlorella, and UV-exposed mushrooms.

Iron 5

Iron contributes to the normal formation of red blood cells and haemoglobin, which deliver oxygen throughout your body. Spinach, legumes, and pumpkin seeds are great plant-based sources of iron, and all are best paired with vitamin C-rich foods to support iron absorption. If you have chronically low levels of iron, you should speak to a health professional about supplementing further.

Calcium 5

You don’t need dairy to get enough calcium in your diet to maintain strong bones. Not only are most plant-based alternatives to milks and yoghurts fortified with calcium, there are plenty of vegetables that contain calcium. We are talking sesame seeds, dried fruit and pulses! 7

What plant-based foods to do you add to your diet?

References

1. United Nations Environment Programme (2012). Growing greenhouse gas emissions due to meat production. Accessed 5/6/13 from http://www.unep.org/pdf/UNEP-GEAS_OCT_2012.pdf

2. Koneswaran G, Nierbenberg D. (2008). Global Farm Animal Production and Global Warming: Impacting and Mitigating Climate Change. Environmental Health Perspectives. 116(5): 578–582. Accessed 13/2/14 from http://www.n    cbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2367646/pdf/ehp0116-000578.pdf

3. Reijnders, L., & Soret, S. (2003). Quantification of the environmental impact of different dietary proteins. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Accessed on 13/2/14 from: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/66 4S.full.pdf+html

4. Weber CL. Matthews HS. (2008). Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States. Environmental Science and Technology. 42, 3508–3513. Accessed on 8/11/13 from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es702969f

5. Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S. (2008). Krause’s Food and Nutrition Therapy. Saunders Elsevier. 12th ed.

6. Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University (2012). Micronutrient Information Center: Essential Fatty Acids and Skin Health. Accessed on March 29,2013 from:  http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/skin/EFA/index.html

7. NHS Choices (2015). The Vegan Diet. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Vegetarianhealth/Pages/Vegandiets.aspx. Last accessed 24/02/2017.

 

*At Vega® Clean means: non-GMO, suitable for vegetarians and vegans, gluten-free, non-dairy ingredients. A varied balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle is recommended for good health.