Eating a more plant-based diet is as simple as it sounds. It means eating more vegetables, grains, legumes, and healthy fats, while trying to eat less meat, eggs, and dairy. Going plant-based usually means that you end up following a healthier high-fibre, low-fat diet — and it’s better for the environment too! The benefits are huge, but if you’re new to plant-based eating, there might be a few things you haven’t considered.
Are you getting all the nutrients you need?
Following a plant-based or vegan diet means restricting certain food groups, and dietary restrictions can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Variety is key in any balanced diet, but it’s especially important for a plant-based diet. By eating a wide variety of food, you increase your intake of important micronutrients, such as Vitamin C, iron and zinc. Need some tips on getting more variety in your plant-based diet?
- Add beans or lentils to your favourite curries and stews
- Garnish meals with fresh herbs or microgreens for extra plant points
- Sprinkle nuts and seeds over porridge, cereal, salads, avocado on toast — they add texture and protein
If you’re still concerned about getting all the nutrients you need while sticking to a plant-based diet, then consider taking a supplement:
Vitamin B12 — this essential nutrient plays an important role in reducing tiredness and fatigue, and is naturally found in meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and fortified foods, such as fortified bread and cereal. Avoiding those foods due to dietary restrictions may result in a Vitamin B12 deficiency.
Iron — this micro-mineral is naturally found in various foods, such as red meat, beans, and nuts. You can hit your daily iron needs via plant-based foods, but an iron supplement can be taken to ensure full coverage.
Calcium — this macro-mineral is commonly associated with dairy, meaning those following a plant-based or vegan diet may worry about calcium intake. You can get your calcium requirements from leafy greens and fortified plant milks, but a calcium supplement can be taken as a backup if needed.
What about protein?
Going plant-based or vegan doesn’t mean compromising on protein intake. It means swapping animal sources of protein to plant-based sources of protein. There are plenty of plant-based foods that are naturally high in protein, and again, variety is key. Try the following protein swaps:
Chicken curry SWAP FOR Red lentils
Beef mince SWAP FOR Plant-based mince e.g. soya, Quorn
Steak SWAP FOR Seitan steak (seitan is a meat substitute made using wheat protein AKA gluten)
Chicken stir fry SWAP FOR Tofu
Roast dinner SWAP FOR Nut loaf made with mixed nuts, seeds, and pulses
Watch out for processed food
While plant-based diets tend to be healthier (they are usually lower in saturated fats and higher in fibre), it’s still important to watch out for processed foods. There are vegan substitutes for just about everything: pizza, burgers, nuggets, pies, ice cream and more. But it’s worth noting that just because something is labelled ‘vegan’ or ‘plant-based’ doesn’t make it healthy. These products (while delicious) can contain high levels of saturated fat, salt, and sugar, so try to enjoy treats mindfully and always as part of a balanced diet.
Don’t neglect gut health
Eating mostly plant-based foods should result in a happy, healthy gut. Why? Because eating a variety of foods, such as vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes, should introduce plenty of different bacteria to your gut, and diversity is key for overall digestive health. But, if you want to prioritise your gut health, you can introduce more beneficial foods to your diet. Fermented foods, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and yogurt (including plant-based yogurt with added cultures), all contain probiotics — the ‘friendly’ bacteria that contribute to a flourishing microbiome.
If fermented foods aren’t your thing, try a probiotic supplement. Most probiotic supplements contain dairy, so keep this in mind if you are committing to a strict vegan diet.
Unexpected animal-derived products
If you’re following a plant-based diet, you may be actively avoiding animal-based products. The obvious ones are meat, dairy and eggs, but there may be a few products that you haven’t considered:
Milk powder — milk powder can be found in a variety of processed food, such as crisps, crackers, and cereals. If you are committing to cutting out dairy, watch out for milk powder, ‘whey’, or ‘lactose’ on ingredient lists.
Gelatine — Gelatine is usually found in jelly sweets but can also be used in chilled desserts. This substance is derived from animal fat, usually from cows or pigs, so look for vegan alternatives if necessary.
Lard — You will most likely know that lard is a solid spread made from animal fat, and, if you are following a plant-based diet, it’s usually easy to avoid. But it can be found in pastry, baked goods, and canned beans.