Plant-based focussed eating

November 1, 2022

A plant-based diet is a diet that emphasises vegetables, fruits, grains, beans and legumes over animal-based products. It is generally rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

A plant-based diet is actually not a diet, but a general approach to eating, where you choose to eat more plant-based foods and fewer, or no animal-based foods. A plant-based diet can be affordable, relatable, filling, simple, nutritious and easy.

Plant-based is not about missing out on something, it’s about adding more variety to your diet. Choose your favourite dishes to adapt rather than jumping into the deep end with a recipe you wouldn’t normally choose to eat even if it did contain animal-based protein.

A diet that is mainly plant-based with reduced animal-based foods is beneficial, as eating plant-based foods will provide many benefits, such as disease prevention meanwhile helping to maintain a healthy weight with less of the disadvantages of animal-based foods that contain saturated fats and sodium.

Even only going meatless once or twice a week or decreasing your portion of meat by adding beans and legumes, provides health benefits including reducing your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions.

The animal-based foods that you do eat should be chosen carefully to include leaner meats such as chicken and seafood which contain beneficial fats. Processed meat and large helpings of meat should be avoided. Generally, your portion of meat should take up no more than one-fourth of your plate.

It is important to note that you probably will not see any of the benefits of reducing meat if you simply replace it with highly processed foods. For your health, along with reducing red meat, also work towards reducing your intake of foods high in salt and unhealthy fats, food made with refined grains like white bread, sugary drinks and high sugar items.

If labels are important to you:

  • Flexitarian Diet – People who are flexible with their diet and who try to simply cut down on their meat intake and eat a diet that is primarily plant-based.
  • Vegetarian Diet – Vegetarians generally eat cheese, eggs, and milk and cut out meat, such as chicken, pork, fish and beef.
  • Vegan Diet – People who choose to not eat any animal products, including honey. They exclusively eat plant-based products.
  • Raw Vegan Diet – People who follow a vegan diet but choose to only eat raw plant-based foods.

Tips to increase your intake of plant-based foods and reduce your meat intake or make healthier meat choice:

  • Combine meat and plant proteins using more plant protein and less meat – use this combination to make familiar and popular dishes that you already know how to make, which will make the process easier.
  • Instead of red meat. These proteins are typically leaner and lower in saturated fat and fish contains omega 3. Avoid processed foods which are generally unhealthy and higher in salt and fat.
  • Replace the meat completely with a plant-based protein source – set yourself a goal to try a new plant-based food a week to increase variety and interest. Google easy recipes to use if it is your first time using a certain product.

How is your Protein intake affected by a Plant-Based Diet?

An individual’s protein requirements vary based on factors such as weight, medical conditions, activity level, age and gender to mention a few.

Same as with an animal-based diet, a plant-based diet needs to be planned to ensure that you eat a balanced diet which includes all the food groups including protein.

Plant-based sources of protein include lentils, beans (soybeans, edamame, red beans, black beans etc), peas, quinoa, soy milk, spinach, oatmeal, chickpeas and even brown rice, whole wheat bread and peanut butter to name a few. Incorporate these items daily into your balanced plant-based meals and you should have no issues concerning sufficient intake of protein.

Is there a risk of any deficiencies? What vitamins and minerals should you be aware of if you are on a completely plant-based diet?

People who choose to cut out animal products completely are likely to have a vitamin B12 deficiency. There is very little to no Vitamin B12 in plant foods. Supplementation is advised for vegans (people who eat no animal products) to prevent deficiency.

Vitamin D supplementation is recommended for everyone, not only people on a plant-based diet. Less than 1/5th of vitamin D needs are met through diet with the only significant natural food source being fatty fish.

Sunlight is the primary source of vitamin D. Omega 3 is mainly found in fish and seafood and is only found in smaller amounts in plant-based foods. Focus on including berries, winter squash, beans, dark green vegetables and mangoes in your diet and consider supplementation.

Calcium must also be considered when planning a plant-based diet. Dark leafy green vegetables and fortified plant milk (>120mg calcium per 100ml) should be included daily.

Environmental Impact of Eating Meat

The production of animal products has a big impact on the environment, on the production of greenhouse gas emissions and uses large amounts of water.

Just doing ‘Meatless Monday’ and cutting meat out of your diet for one day a week helps to reduce your environmental footprint.

Animal farming and meat production require more resources and contribute to deforestation and pollution to a larger extent than the majority of unprocessed plant-based foods.

Benefits of eating a mainly plant-based diet:

  1. It may lower your blood pressure – this decreases your risk of health issues including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
  2. It may keep your heart healthy – a plant-based diet may reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease if the plant-based foods you are consuming are healthy. Meat contains saturated fat which can contribute to heart issues when eaten in excess.
  3. It may help prevent type 2 diabetes – it reduces the risk of developing diabetes due to lower consumption of saturated fat and improved insulin resistance.
  4. It may help with weight loss if this is a goal – a plant-based diet contains more antioxidants and fibre which provides prolonged fullness.
  5. It may help you to live longer –decreases your risk for diseases.
  6. It may decrease your risk of cancer – the best way to source cancer-protective nutrients, including fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, is to eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
  1. It may improve your cholesterol values – cholesterol is found in animal-based products so eating fewer animal-based products will result in eating less cholesterol.
  2. It may keep your brain strong –eating additional amounts of fruit and vegetables, which are rich in polyphenols, can lead to a reduction in the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia.
  3. It may improve gut health – diets that limit meat intake are often rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and other plant foods and therefore tend to be high in dietary fibre.

Fibre feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut that produce compounds which are anti-inflammatory and immune supporting. If you struggle with beans making you bloat, then soak, rinse, boil and rinse the beans again before using. If using tinned beans, rinse well before use. All high-fibre items should be introduced slowly and incrementally, with plenty of fluids. Consider a probiotic supplement if you continue to have issues with bloating and digestion.

  1. Reduced Inflammation – nutrients found in fruits and vegetables have been shown to reduce inflammation.
  2. Reduced arthritis pain and improved motor function – due to reduced inflammation
  3. Budget-friendly – unprocessed plant-based foods are generally cheaper than many meat products and dry goods have a longer shelf life and are easier to store than most meat products resulting in less waste.

Whatever diet you decide to follow, it is important to plan your meals and eat a variety of healthy, fibre-rich foods from the different food groups to ensure that nothing is lacking in your diet. When you next see a healthcare professional, be sure to mention your dietary intake so that they can make sure that you are eating correctly and not missing anything that could result in deficiencies – this is important whatever diet you choose to consume.

Yours in Wellness
Thandi and the Empact Team

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