Plant-based eating can be a great step to improve your health and also benefit the planet too. The food we eat can have an environmental impact so if you’re looking to live a more sustainable life then considering the food you eat is a good way to go.
Sustainable diet recommendations include a focus on reducing red meat intake to no more than 70g per person per day and instead opting for more plant-based protein sources that have a lower impact on greenhouse gases and land use (British Dietetic Association, One Blue Dot).
Choose seasonal, local fruit and vegetables where possible to reduce food miles and pre-packaged options and opt for sustainably sourced fish too. Reducing your food waste is another great step for more sustainable eating.
Remember that plant-based eating doesn't mean vegan!
Plant-based can simply be making the choice to include more plant foods, and to reduce animal products. It doesn't mean all or nothing.
Veganism avoids all animal products in the diet and wider lifestyle such as beauty products and clothing. This includes dairy, eggs, and honey. ‘Plant Based’ is a popular term at the moment and may also be used in the marketing of products to appeal to consumers, as always be vigilant as plant-based or vegan food don’t automatically mean healthy or better for you.
Vegan or plant based products can still be fried, energy-dense and could be high in sugar, fat or salt just like any other food!
If choosing to eat more plant-based or vegan –make sure you include sources of plant-based protein as it can be easy to cut out animal protein sources like beef, chicken and pork but not replace this with plant-based protein sources. There is far more to plant-based eating than just eating vegetables, keep it interesting and varied. Protein is an essential nutrient important for repairing and maintaining the cells in our body.
Include plant-based sources like beans, lentils and pulses to give a source of protein.
Nuts like cashews and almonds are also a great source of protein as well as seeds like pumpkin seeds or linseeds. Many vegetarian alternatives to meat are also now suitable for vegans like Quorn products. A well-planned plant-based or vegan diet can provide most of the nutrients necessary for health with a few key nutrients to consider to ensure you can get enough on a plant-based or vegan diet.
A dietitian or nutritionist can discuss these nutrients with you to help you identify suitable sources and ensure your diet is adequate.
Some key nutrients to consider:
Calcium Choose dairy alternatives like soya, almond milk etc that have added calcium. Non-dairy sources of calcium include dried fruit, nuts, green leafy vegetables, tofu, sesame seeds and red kidney beans.
Omega 3 fatty acids Vegan sources include walnuts (6 walnut halves), flaxseed (linseed), hemp seeds, chia seeds (1tbsp per day) and soya beans. Rapeseed and olive oil are also preferred compared to sunflower or corn oil. Fish is an important source of omega 3 fatty acids for those still wishing to consume fish.
Protein A varied vegan diet can provide adequate protein as mentioned above. Good sources include beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, soya products, nuts, pumpkin, linseed (flaxseed), chia seeds, hemp seeds, meat alternatives e.g. Quorn.
Vitamin D It’s difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone, so everyone should consider taking a daily supplement of 10mcg/ day during the autumn and winter months as recommended by the government. During summer in the UK, we can synthesise vitamin D in our skin following sun exposure, unfortunately, this is not possible during winter and the body cannot store enough vitamin D to last us through the winter so our levels may become low. Dietary sources include mushrooms, oily fish, red meat, egg yolks and fortified foods like cereal or yoghurt so can further limit those following a plant-based or vegan diet. Some vitamin D supplements are not suitable for vegans so be sure to check the label.
Iodine Cereals and grains contain iodine but the amount present varies depending on the soil it is grown in and the time of year. Where soils are deficient in iodine, iodised salt and seaweed can provide plant-based iodine. The iodine content of seaweed is also variable, and sometimes too high, so it is recommended not to consume sea vegetables more than once a week.
Vitamin B12 If eliminating all animal-based foods, the only reliable sources of vitamin B12 are fortified foods and supplements. Suitable B12-fortified foods include some breakfast cereals, yeast extracts, soya yoghurts and non-dairy milk. Aim to eat fortified foods at least twice a day or take a supplement. Low levels of vitamin B12 can cause tiredness and fatigue, headaches and pale skin to name a few.
Iron Vegan sources of iron include dried fruit, whole grains, nuts, green leafy vegetables, seeds and pulses e.g. chickpeas and lentils. Eat fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C as this helps to absorb iron e.g. citrus fruits, strawberries, green leafy veg and peppers.
Chloé is a registered dietitian and is passionate about promoting a whole-person approach to health and helping clients to feel empowered. Her specialities are weight management, IBS, plant-based diets and cancer rehabilitation. Book Chloe's expertise and start to feel empowered living a more plant-based life!
Sustainable diets - https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/one-blue-dot.html