It goes without saying that plant based eating has been 'on trend' as of late, and it's no surprise given the benefits that this style of dietary pattern has to offer. A recent study revealed that 11.2% of Australians (that’s around 2.6 million people) are favouring a plant-based diet, with numbers expecting to rise.
Whilst most of us are aware of the general principles that make up plant based eating, there is a lot more to it than first meets the eye.
Our dietitian Millie is here to answer the most common questions surrounding plant-based eating; what it entails, elements you need to be mindful of and how to ensure your diet is nutritionally balanced and complete. Here is the lowdown……
What is plant based eating?
As the name suggests, plant-based eating is a dietary pattern that is based around plant foods, but does not necessarily exclude animal foods or by-products.
Typically we associate plants with fruits and vegetables, however whole-grains, lentils, legumes, nuts and seeds are also part of the family. With that in mind, It makes sense why this style of eating is favoured given the amount of nutritional benefits associated with these types of foods (we will get into that soon).
For some, a plant-based diet may indicate vegetarianism or veganism, and for others it might be a diet that prioritises and consists mostly of plant foods with small amounts of meat, fish, dairy and eggs as preferred. The definition is a little grey, so make of it what you will and implement its foundations to best suit your goals, values and lifestyle.
Oh, and generally speaking (but also not definitely), a plant based diet is centred around eating whole foods whilst limiting highly processed and refined foods.
It sounds like the ideal dietary pattern if you ask us!
So, what are the benefits of plant based eating?
Nutritionally speaking, carefully formulated plant based diets offer an abundance of benefits and should be a style of eating that is considered by more of us. The percentage of Australians that actually eat enough plants each day is alarmingly low, so I think we could all jump on the plant bandwagon and do a little better with including more in our diets.
Let’s take a closer look…..
1. Reduces our risk of chronic disease
Plants form the dietary foundation of some of the most nutritious diets around the globe and have been linked with lower levels of chronic disease such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and some cancers.
2. Plants are our only source of dietary fibre
Exclusively, plant foods contain dietary fibre which is extremely beneficial for our digestive system. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend 25-30g of fibre each day for bowel regularity and a thriving gut microbiome. The trillions of bacterial cells that reside in our digestive tract actually feed off the fibre in foods (most commonly the prebiotic fibres), and from the research we know that a healthy gut from consuming a VARIETY of plant foods equates to greater health outcomes. If you would like to learn more about nutrition and gut health, you can read our blog here.
3. Low in saturated fat
Given that animal derived products are a source of saturated fat, reducing, limiting or cutting out these types of foods means our over-all diet will be lower in this particular nutrient. Excessive consumption of saturated fats can increase our bad cholesterol and place us at a heightened risk of heart disease.
4. Contains Copious amounts of micronutrients
As most us are well aware, plant foods contain an abundance of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Consuming the recommended amount of each micronutrient has been linked to stronger immunity, clearer skin, greater energy levels and reduced risk of illness and disease. Pass the plants please!
Environmentally speaking, plant foods have much less of an impact in comparison to animal products too. Bonus!
Are there any consequences of plant based eating?
Whilst plant based eating attains quite the resume, there are however a few things we need to be mindful of.
Our Intakes of Protein, Iron and B12
It’s no secret that reducing animal products in our diets holds so many benefits for our health and for the environment. However, foods such as meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy are our richest sources of dietary protein and have a higher bioavailability percentage in comparison to plant sources of protein. (This means our body absorbs and uses it more efficiently). Additionally, animal based foods also contains large quantities of iron and B12 which are essential for oxygen transportation, blood quality and energy levels, subsequently.
If you have removed these certain foods from your diet, special consideration should be placed on plant sources of protein and iron such as lentils, legumes, specific whole-grains, tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds.
B12 is not naturally present any plant foods, so it necessary to opt for B12 fortified foods such as soy products and meat substitutes to name a few. You may even need to consider a vitamin B12 supplement (speak to your doctor first).
And, our Intakes of Calcium and Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids
Calcium from dairy products plays an essential role in keeping our teeth, bones and muscles strong. Plant sources of calcium include tahini (sesame seed spread), green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds. If you drink plant milks such as oat, soy and almond - always opt for calcium fortified versions too (look for 120mg of calcium per 100ml).
Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids are found profusely in marine sources such as oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna etc) and are beneficial for our heart health, inflammation levels, cognitive function and mood. Whilst marine sources are absorbed more effectively, omega 3’s can still be sourced in walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds and tofu.
If you are considering switching to a plant based style of eating, we recommend seeking professional advice from an Accredited Practising Dietitian to ensure your diet is nutritionally adequate.
Be Mindful of Sneaky Marketing Claims
Since ‘plant-based’ eating is incredibly vogue at the moment, food companies and manufacturers will slap the word ‘plant-based’ across their products to persuade you into purchasing them. Just remember, plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean more nutritious. Chips and lollies are plant-based after-all!
Here at KOJA, we are pro plant-based eating (of course!), and have created all of our products in alignment with the principles of this wonderful dietary pattern!
Moral of the story - eat more plants (and a variety at that!)