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By now we can all safely admit that we have tried SOME form of restrictive dieting in our time. I remember an old boss going through the cabbage soup diet trend and just feeling so sorry for her. She must have been starving and farty! I had the benefit of working on Celebrity Fit Club where I worked closely with the team supporting the celebrities and I learned so much about nutrition. However, I was in my early 20s and had a metabolism faster than a speeding train. It’s only now, in my 40s, I’ve discovered that this train needs a frikking service!
These days, I look to maintain a healthy balance with food. I eat mindfully and I enjoy what I eat. That said, I know that at this stage of my life, I will benefit hugely from fuelling my body in the right way. I do enjoy meat but for various reasons I do want to cut back so I was super interested to learn more about the benefits to a plant-based diet.
What is a plant-based diet?
We asked Dr Kirstie Lawton, a registered nutritional therapist at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and an AfN registered nutritionist to explain a little more. She offered us the following information.
According to the British Dietetic Association, a plant-based diet consists mostly or entirely of plant-based foods. While the term is synonymously used with veganism, a plant-based diet isn’t necessarily vegan and may include those who eat some meat, fish, egg, or dairy. The diet is predominantly made up of fruit and vegetables, grains, pulses and legumes, nuts and seeds.
What are the benefits to a plant-based diet?
An entirely plant-based diet, if correctly balanced, is rich in a wide range of protein building blocks, phytonutrients (plant-derived nutrients) and a diverse array of fibre, that can support the microbiota and improve gut health. Pulses and legumes are protein-rich and contain a variety of nutrients including B vitamins, iron, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and fibre to support the microbiota.
Nuts and seeds are highly nutritious food sources containing a wide variety of protein building blocks, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, potassium, selenium, magnesium, zinc and copper, and fibre. Fruit and vegetables are rich in a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fibre also.
There is research supporting the use of a well-considered plant-based diet for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and blood lipid profiles, management of diabetes type 2, weight reduction and prevention of some cancers. However, what is key here is that the diet is from whole food sources that are prepared from scratch, rather than over-reliance on processed plant foods that are high in salt and additives.
What considerations are there for eating a plant-based diet?
Plant-based eating can be healthy and nutritious, however, there are some key considerations:
While a number of vegan food sources contain protein, the amount is generally quite low, so it is essential to ensure that you are eating a good source of protein at each meal. A number of these sources also have what we call limiting amino acids, e.g. a protein building block that is essential from the diet is missing. By combining plant-based foods e.g. beans and rice, the meal becomes a source of all essential amino acids. The richest and most complete source of protein is soy, however, this can be highly processed and isn’t suitable for everyone.
Research indicates that those eating an entirely plant-based diet may be deficient in a number of nutrients including riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine, zinc, calcium, potassium, and selenium. Sources of all of these nutrients are available through a plant-based diet and some fortification (calcium, vitamin B12). However, someone who is plant-based and concerned that their diet isn’t diverse enough may wish to consider supplementation, which should be done in consultation with a registered nutritional therapist.
Further potential deficiencies include the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA, which are derived from fish, and are essential for a number of functions in the body. While these can also be converted from the fatty acids found in seeds, conversation rates are low. Algae is a plant-based source of DHA and EPA and should be considered in supplement form. Finally, choline is essential for a wide range of functions, and is especially important for the growing foetus, so choline supplementation may also be a consideration in those who are eating a plant-based diet and of childbearing age.
There are more and more plant-based products on the market that are highly processed, and full of inflammatory ingredients which may not be optimal for health. These should be eaten as an occasional food choice, and replaced with homemade recipes from raw or minimally processed ingredients where possible.
Finally, those with GI issues, such as an imbalance or overgrowth of bacteria, issues with nightshades, a soy allergy, or intolerance to histamine-rich or oxalate-rich foods may struggle with a plant-based diet, and should seek support from a registered nutritional therapist to correct these health concerns.
Plant-based recipe ideas
I was thrilled with Good4U asked me to try their range of plant-based snacks and toppers.
Packed with plant-based protein, the range is ideal for those looking for a natural protein boost, whether it’s to increase energy after a workout or to incorporate as part of a family meal, the delicious topper combinations are here to elevate and nutritionally optimise those bland dishes.
To add nutritional benefit to those more indulgent meals, these tasty toppers can be added to a wide range of dishes including your favourite pizza, curry, or burrito. In fact, the handy pouches can be easily resealed and used whenever a sprinkle of goodness is needed in your dish.
Good4U Super Seeds offer a crunchy and savoury mix of tamari roasted sunflower seeds, pumpkin, and British-grown green peas. At only 144 calories per 25g serving, the seeds contain zinc, known to help the immune system to reduce unwanted bacteria and viruses, ideal for fighting off those colds and flus during the winter months.
If you want to add a bit of spice to your evening meal, why not turn up the heat with Good4U’s Garlic and Chilli Salad Toppers. This spicy mix is only 123 calories per 25g serving, made with sweet red peppers, chilli roasted seeds, smoky chipotle, and a sprinkle of kale, which can be poured on your curry for a nourishing boost or added to your salad to give an extra punchy kick.
To find out more about the range and for recipe inspiration, visit the Good4U website.
I’ve been really enjoying building Buddha bowls for a satisfying lunch. Follow the steps below, picking one suggestion from each. Season to taste and enjoy! Send us your pictures on Instagram!
Grains are naturally high in fibre, helping you feel full and satisfied. Choose from one of the following:
Giant Cous Cous
We need protein in our diet to help our body repair cells and make new ones. Choose from one of the following:
There’s nothing more beautiful than eating the rainbow. So add one of the following to invite your eyes to the party:
Fats in dressings can actually help you absorb key nutrients. But don’t go crazy! Choose from one of the following:
Apple Cider Vinegar
Red or white wine vinegar
Pumpkin Seed Oil
Who doesn’t love that added crunch. Salads don’t need to be boring. What will you add from the following?
I love seeing all the gorgeous colours in the bowl knowing I’m eating mindfully and healthily. The best part is, it tastes amazing. We have introduced meat-free Mondays at home. It’s a start!
Are you plant-based? Are you considering cutting back on meat? Let us know by commenting below.