There are a variety of reasons that cause people to opt for a plant-based diet: health, animal welfare, climate change, to name a few. Often, people assume that by cutting out or reducing meat intake that this is a healthy diet to follow, but the truth is that it’s not automatically a healthy choice for everyone. Without careful planning, a plant-based diet can be unbalanced and can put you at risk of a nutritional deficiency – but this risk comes along with every other diet too.
What type of plant-based diet will you adopt?
The first step to adopting a healthy and balanced plant-based diet is to decide which category you fall into, and therefore which foods you will be eating:
- Lacto-vegetarians – those who eat dairy foods but exclude meat, fish, poultry, and eggs
- Lacto-Ovo vegetarians – those who eat dairy products and eggs but exclude meat, fish, or poultry
- Ovo-vegetarians – those who eat eggs but avoid all other animal products, including dairy
- Vegans – those who avoid all animal products and animal by-products, e.g. honey, fur
- Or, plant-based to you might simply mean that you base your diet around fruits and vegetables as recommended by the food pyramid and include some meat-free days.
Depending on which type of plant-based diet you are following, you will need to look at different food sources to meet your nutritional requirements.
The aim of a well-balanced, plant-based diet is to promote optimal health and meet all your nutritional requirements. Take a look at the following tips and to see where you can make some improvements. Simple changes can go a long way!
Aim To Make Half Of Every Meal Fruit And Vegetables
Fruit and vegetables are nutritious, full of fibre and low in calories – meaning they will keep you full without promoting weight gain. The general rule of thumb is to aim for 2 portions of fruit and 3 of veg a day. Aim to eat a variety of colours, as each comes with their own set of benefits. Eat the rainbow! Eat more fruits and vegetables by having them as a snack or adding them to other recipes.
Choose Whole Grains
Opt for whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa and bulgur wheat over their white alternatives. Refined carbohydrate foods are broken down quickly, which can cause a spike in blood glucose levels. Whole grains are full of fibre, digest slowly and will keep you fuller for longer without causing spikes in blood glucose levels, so they are a much better choice.
Choose Heart Healthy Good Fats
Olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado are a better choice than saturated fats like in butter and processed products. This will promote better cholesterol levels as well.
Get Your Calcium
Calcium is needed for strong bones and teeth, as well as for many other functions in the body. It is typically presumed that the only source of calcium is dairy such as milk, cheese, yoghurt. Although these foods do provide the body with easily absorbable calcium, if you do not eat dairy you can also get calcium from dark green veg, fortified foods, nuts, peas, lentils, tofu, dried fruit and fortified dairy free products.
Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, helps the body to absorb calcium. It can be found in eggs, dairy and fortified food products. You may require a vitamin D supplement if you think you might be lacking.
Ditch The Salt!
Don’t add salt to food and cut down on processed foods. Flavour food with herbs and spices instead.
Vary Your Protein Sources
Try not to rely on one food alone as a source of protein. Tofu, tempeh, quinoa and legumes (lentils, dried peas and beans) are excellent sources of protein. Legumes are power foods, which are full of fibre and protein but low in calories and they are heart healthy!
Iron is traditionally found in meat and meat products. It is essential for transporting oxygen around the body and those on a plant-based diet are at risk of iron deficiency anaemia if they do not seek out iron from alternative sources. Plant based sources of iron include dried beans and peas, lentils, dark green leafy veg, however, they are not as easily absorbed by the body as iron from meat.
Ensure that you consume plenty of vitamin C to convert plant iron to its absorbable form. Sources of vitamin C include strawberries, oranges, tomatoes, citrus fruits, cabbage and broccoli.
Drink Plenty Of Water
Stay hydrated, drinking approximately 2 litres of water daily.
Limit High Sugar Foods
Treats are important as part of a well-balanced diet, but aim to limit the frequency that you eat them to promote a healthy weight and good energy levels.
If you smoke or drink alcohol, consider quitting or cutting down substantially.
Aim to meet the recommendations of 150 mins exercise weekly, plus strength training on 2 days. This is essential for optimal health.
Get Your R+R
Rest and relaxation are essential to good health. Prioritise your sleep and incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine for good health.
A plant-based diet is extremely healthy once the time is taken to learn where to get all your essential nutrients. Planning and preparation are key to success, and you will be feeling healthier and more energized in no time.