The interest in plant based diets has dramatically risen in the past few years. With campaigns such as Veganuary and meat free Mondays it is no surprise plant based diets seem to be a lifestyle, conscious choice people are switching to. There are many reasons people may choose to follow a plant based diet, whether that be the concern of animal wellbeing, environmental factors or for health reasons. Whatever the reason there is now more people following different types of plant based diets than ever and this article is here to explore the different plant based diets and how to make informed choices when cutting food sources from your diet.
Types of plant based diets:
From vegetarian to vegan to pescatarians there are a number of diets that fall under the plant based umbrella.
There are several different types of vegetarian diets; lacto-ovo vegetarians eat dairy foods and eggs but do not consume meat, poultry or seafood. Ovo-vegetarians do not consume anything but eggs from animal sources. Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy but do not consume eggs, meat, poultry and seafood.
Vegans do not eat anything from an animal therefore avoiding honey, dairy and eggs as well as meat, fish and poultry.
Other variations of a plant-based diet include pescatarians who consume only fish and flexitarians who occasionally eat animal products, however, their diet is mainly plant based foods.
There are many benefits to eating a diet rich in plant-based foods, they are usually rich in beans, nuts, wholegrains, fruits, and vegetables which all contribute to a healthy diet. This includes protein, vitamins, minerals and essential fats as well as fibre. However, when cutting food groups out of your diet and in this case food sources it is important to plan and be aware of nutrients you may be lacking by not eating meat, fish or dairy.
Below are just a handful of nutrients to be aware of if you follow a plant based diet to ensure you are including them into your daily diet. If you require any further information please see a Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist.
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid which means the body cannot make it itself therefore we must obtain this from food. Omega 3 is commonly found in oily fish so unless you are following the pescatarian or flexitarian diet and consuming 2 portions per week you may be lacking this in your plant based diet. There are good sources of Omega 3 in plant based foods such as walnuts, flaxseeds, soya beans and chia seeds. For vegetarians who consume eggs these are also a great source of Omega 3.
Most sources of calcium are found in dairy products so if you are vegan or an ovo-vegetarian then you are best to try and include foods such as; green leafy vegetables, dried figs, nuts, kidney beans and tofu to help towards your recommended intake of 700mg per day. Calcium is important for the maintenance of bone health.
Iron is usually found in meat and eggs with absorption being helped through Vitamin C. Plant based sources of iron are not as easily absorbed however you can find iron in foods such as dried fruits, wholegrains, leafy green vegetables, seeds and pulses. To help absorption consume with foods high in vitamin C such as citrus fruits and leafy green vegetables.
Vitamin B12 is a very important vitamin to be aware of it you are eliminate all animal products from your diet. A vitamin B12 deficiency can cause fatigue, anaemia, and potential nerve damage. The British Dietetic Association recommend eating two portions of fortified foods per day to help with your B12 intake such as breakfast cereals, yeast extract, soya yogurts and non-dairy milks. If this isn’t possible, consider taking a daily supplement with approximately 10mg of Vitamin B12. (If you have any concerns about this please see your GP or a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist)
Protein plays several important roles in this functioning of our body such as growth and repair and the maintenance of good health. There are a variety of plant based sources of protein on the market such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu and soya. If you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian, then eggs and dairy are great sources of protein. Variety is key as some sources of protein do not contain all the essential amino acids, with soya, quinoa and hemp being the only ‘complete’ plant based sources of protein.
“Did you know the BDA say you can get your recommended daily amount of selenium from just two brazil nuts each day.”
It is important when following any of the above diets to ensure you are for the right reasons, not because you feel you must for the label of ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ – a balanced diet full of a variety of fruit, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, proteins and fats is key.
Consider taking multi vitamin supplements that contain Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. In the UK Vitamin D supplements are recommended in the winter months when there is not enough sunlight for our bodies to be able to make this itself.
Keep hydrated, you should be consuming 6 – 8 glasses of water a day (more if you have an active lifestyle) try and reduce your intake of sugary drinks opting for sugar free varieties where possible.
Eat to make you happy, food should be more than just fuel for the body. Follow plant based diets because it makes you feel good not to restrict your diet for negative reasons.