The concept of plant-based eating has become very popular in recent years, prompting many people (quite rightly) to question whether the diet is simply yet another fad. But what exactly is it?
What may come as a surprise to many, is that the majority of the world’s population actually follows a form of plant-based eating. Estimates suggest that worldwide, around 2 billion people live primarily on a meat-based diet, while an estimated 4 billion live primarily on a plant-based diet.
So really, plant-based eating is not simply a trend, but is actually the way of life for vast numbers of the world’s population. Many national and international dietary guidelines are now prioritising plant foods and plant-based eating over high consumption of meat and animal products. This is due to an increasing need to improve the health of many populations as well as to safeguard the planet’s future – the sustainability of our planet being one of the greatest benefits to this type of lifestyle.
Here’s everything you need to know about it.
Plant-based eating and the UK
The population in the UK seems to be becoming more interested in plant-based eating. From celebrities praising it for their miraculous weight loss, to football teams adopting it as a way of fuelling their players, it’s definitely at the forefront of media interest.
Add to this the fact that many health professionals online are speaking highly of this ‘diet’ (just follow #plantbased on social media), and that even our latest UK Government Dietary Guidelines has shifted in focus towards promoting a plant-based diet, demonstrates that such a way of eating is here to stay.
What plant-based eating isn’t
Before we can begin to discuss what plant-based eating actually is, it would certainly help to be clear on what it isn’t.
Many people associate plant-based eating with a vegan or vegetarian diet. A vegan diet is one which cuts out all animal products including honey, dairy and meat. A vegetarian diet cuts out all meat and fish, but usually includes dairy.
Those following a plant-based diet do not necessarily cut out all animal products; many still include meat, dairy and fish in their diet on a regular basis, so it is not true to say that plant-based eating is essentially vegan or vegetarian.
Defining plant-based eating
There are many different approaches to plant-based eating, which is probably one of the reasons why the ‘diet’ could be so popular and could have longevity. This flexible approach, lacking fixed rules, allows individuals to tailor their plant-based eating behaviours to their own lifestyle and preferences.
A plant-based diet is, quite simply, one which incorporates more plant foods and reduces intakes of meat, fish and dairy. Ultimately, it places plant foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole-grains, nuts, seeds, soya and pulses at its core.
What are the benefits of plant-based eating?
Many people adopt a plant-based way of eating for a variety of reasons: a desire to cut down on meat; improving their diet; wanting to follow a more environmentally-friendly diet; or they may be simply looking for more choice.
From a health perspective there certainly are benefits.
One positive is that eating this way and sticking more closely to government dietary guidelines means that a person is more likely to be getting their five-a-day of fruit and veggies. In addition, as plant-based foods are generally a good source of fibre, there is much more likelihood of reaching the government’s new recommendations for 30g of fibre a day – something which is much harder on a diet high in meat and protein.
Also, following a plant-based diet and reducing your intake of meat (and meat-based products) could help you to cut down on levels of salt, saturated fat and sugar that you consume.
Some research suggests that only around 1 per cent of the population actually meets government dietary guidelines, including recommendations for fat, sugar, salt and fibre. If more people were to follow a plant-based diet, they would most likely be moving towards a diet that fits with our government guidelines, and this would have benefits for health as well as the environment.
5 tips to moving towards a plant-based diet:
1. Try out a few meat-free days a week – some research suggests that one plant-based day a week could save the same amount of water as 30 showers.
2. Be flexible and remember there are no rigid rules when it comes to plant-based eating. Focus on getting five or more fruits or vegetables a day.
3. Make plants the focus of the meal, with meat and fish as a side options.
4. Use social media for inspiration and follow companies such as Bosh who give vegan and plant-based diets some real flair.
5. Remember to replace your nutrients – beans, lentils, pulses, nuts, seeds, dairy alternatives and meat replacements. Don’t just cut back, add extras in!
For more from Charlotte Stirling-Reed visit srnutrition.co.uk.
Related: 32 Vegan Lunches You Can Take to Work (provided by POPSUGAR)
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