How to embrace a plant-based diet
A plant-based diet is any diet that focuses around foods derived from plant sources. This can include fruit, vegetables, grains, pulses, legumes and nuts.
People often have different interpretations on the meaning of ‘plant-based’ eating. Some people still include small amounts of animal products such as meat and fish, while focusing mainly on vegetarian foods – this is referred to as a flexitarian diet.
The Mediterranean diet is a great example of a predominantly plant-based diet where dairy, fish and poultry are consumed a few times a week whilst red meat and processed meat is limited and eaten in small quantities.
Diets that cut out meat but still include fish are referred to as pescatarian. People who don’t eat meat or fish but still include dairy and eggs are referred to as vegetarian, while those who cut out any animal derived products, including dairy, eggs, honey and gelatine are referred to as vegan.
Nutritionally balanced plant-based diets, including vegan diets, can provide health benefits such as a lower body mass index (BMI), lower cholesterol levels and a reduced incidence of cardiovascular and chronic diseases.
When following a plant-based diet there are some key nutrients that you should focus on. These include protein, vitamin B12, the vitamins and minerals needed for bone health including calcium and vitamin D as well as the essential omega-3 fatty acids. Certain nutrients are not found very easily in plant foods, including vitamin D and B12 as well as omega-3 fatty acids.
If you have decided to embrace a plant-based diet or become vegan, where do you start?
Here are our top 5 tips:
1. FIRSTLY EDUCATE YOURSELF
Learn how to ensure you eat a nutritionally balanced diet. Familiarise yourself with some dietary information such as what are the best vegetarian protein sources, where can you obtain vitamin B12 and what are the best plant sources of omega-3?
Pulses like chickpeas, beans and lentils are great sources of vegetable proteins but 100g of cooked lentils contain only 9g of proteins vs. 20g of proteins contained in 100g of chicken. Those following a plant-based diet may need to plan their meals a little more carefully than those following flexitarian diets to meet the daily Reference Intake (RI) of 55g of protein for a man and 50g for a woman. If at the end of the day you realize you have fallen short of your protein goals, you can blend some plant-based protein powder with some plant milk and a handful of frozen berries to make a nutritious dessert smoothie.
Omega-3 are harder to get if excluding fish from your diet as they are present in chia seeds and walnuts, but not in the same active form as in oily fish. Supplementation of microalgae derived omega-3 would be a good addition to a vegan diet.
Vitamin B12 is naturally contained only in animal products, therefore familiarise yourself with fortified foods and nutritional yeast, that is a natural source of B12.
2. TAKE IT SLOW
If you are significantly changing your diet, it may be better to start slowly – perhaps introducing two or three plant-based meals a week. This allows your body to adapt to new foods and to the changes in the proportion of certain nutrients, such as fibre, as switching straight to a high-fibre diet could upset your gut.
You will also need to increase your portion size to ensure adequate intake of nutrients, especially proteins. Proteins help to make you feel satiated and if you do not consume enough of them, you may experience increased hunger levels which could sabotage your ability to stick to your new plant-based regime.
Fat intake is also especially important for satiety so don’t avoid fats for fear of putting on weight but embrace ‘good’ fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. Avoid refined sugary and processed products though. Learn from the Mediterranean diet that recommends consuming extra virgin olive oil daily as olive oil contains a unique compound called oleocanthal that contributes in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.
Making small changes to your normal everyday meals can easily increase the amount and range of plant-based foods in your diet. You could start by simply changing one meal at a time, by beginning with breakfast for a week and then progressing to lunch.
You could even try changing one dish at a time by swapping your normal pesto to Sacla’ Vegan Basil Pesto or try making Lasagne with Sacla’ Vegan Bolognese and Vegan White Sauce. There's now a plant-based alternative for almost every type of food that you love and enjoy, so you don't have to miss out on any of your favourite foods and neither does your family.
3. START READING AND UNDERSTANDING LABELS
Learn how to ascertain if a product is truly plant-based. Look for products that state “Suitable for Vegans” or have the “Vegetarian Society, Vegan Approved” logo. Many manufacturers and retailers have now launched “Plant-based” ranges, and this makes it easier to shop for plant-based foods.
However, for some reason, many vegan Italian products on the market aren’t actually labelled as vegan. You should learn to discern between something that is entirely plant-based and something that’s not.
Check the allergy advice. Dairy, egg, fish, molluscs and crustaceans are allergens and they have to be identified as such on the label, so if the allergy advice says it “contains milk” or “contains eggs” you know it’s not for you. However, just because something says it is “free from dairy” or “free from egg,” does not mean it is vegan!
In case you aren’t 100% sure a product is vegan, look at the ingredient list and check if there are any animal products in disguise, such as collagen, whey powder, casein, propolis and glycerine. Be vigilant and educate yourself.
4. GET YOUR FAMILY ON-BOARD!
People who choose to eat predominately plant-based are a minority in the UK.
A family's attitudes can determine just how positive an experience it is for all. Issues can become much more challenging if not every member of the household follows the same diet. It can feel uneasy if you feel like the odd one out, but it doesn’t need to be a constant battle.
When it comes to living a long, healthy life, there are a few major factors that continually pop up in research on the Mediterranean way of living. Having a sense of purpose, and feeling connected to family and friends is at the top of the list, along with obviously the food we eat. So, sharing delicious food and embracing the simple act of talking to our loved ones over the dinner table can play a significant role in relieving stress, boosting mood and staying up to date with each other’s daily lives.
Share the plant-based love and be a beacon of positivity by asking your family to choose a couple of new plant-based recipes from a book your love and cook them for your household. Food is not just about nourishment but also about connection and an expression of love and by sharing the same meal you create a sense of community and connection.
Try showing your family and friend how simple it can be to cook delicious plant-based meals by using high quality plant-based substitutes for your family favourites such as Spaghetti alla Bolognese using Sacla’s Bolognese sauce or try making Sacla’s gorgeous Vegan Chocolate Cake which will most certainly win them over!
5. DINING OUT AS A VEGAN OR BEING A VEGAN GUEST AT A DINNER PARTY
In days gladly gone by, vegans often had to settle for chips and salad when dining out but thankfully this has now changed. A plethora of restaurants, cafes and food delivery companies now have a good selection of healthful plant-based dishes, some even now having a dedicated vegan menu.
Some tips to support your lifestyle when dining out can include:
- Plan ahead and look at the restaurant menu online and always ask if they have a vegetarian/vegan menu.
- Look for codes on the menu. A little ‘V’ is often used to indicate vegan or vegetarian.
- Be clear with what you want and speak up. Just ask if non-vegan ingredients can be substituted.
- Get creative by mix and matching starters and sides if there are more vegan options of these, adding a good glug of olive oil to taste.
- Remember good fats are your best friends. Ask for extra-virgin olive oil and pour over your salad or vegetables. See if they have options that include nuts, sunflower seeds, olives and avocados.
When invited to somebody’s home, as courtesy share with the host that you follow a plant-based diet, stating that you understand it may be trickier but please don’t let it be a concern. Suggest some simple plant-based options and offer, if appropriate, to bring along some food that all could try and enjoy.
The main focus of embracing a plant-based diet is to experiment and enjoy!
Get to know the world of plant-based cooking and experiment with a whole host of new ingredients. Sacla’ are offering a range of plant-based products and recipe ideas, perfect for getting you started on your journey. Click here to discover more.