Plant-based diet – vegan or not?

The on-trend diet these days is the ‘plant-based’ diet.

But what exactly is it? I often hear confusion about what that actually means.

Is it vegetarian or vegan? Is there room for any animal products?

Both vegetarian and vegan diets are definitely plant-based, their focus is on plants being the key foods on your plate. A vegan diet is restricted to only consuming plants and non-animal products. A vegetarian diet can vary; generally cutting out all meat and seafood but some include animal products such as dairy and/or eggs.

The NZ Heart Foundation defines a plant-based diet as one which is rich in minimally processed foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, with a small amount of meat, poultry, seafood and dairy. This is backed by the NZ Ministry of Health which encourages a diet healthy diet as being "largely plant-based, and allows for moderate amounts of animal-based foods (eggs, dairy, poultry, seafood) and small amounts of red meat.”

There are well studied benefits of a diet focused on minimally processed plant foods – lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, and reduced blood pressure. Research also shows that a plant-based diet can have environmental benefits such as reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

A win for your health as well as that of the planet.

If you have been thinking about trying to take on a more plant-based approach to your dietary pattern, here are my three top tips to get you started:

1. Eat vegetables at every meal – so that means breakfast too! Add some mushrooms to your scrambled eggs, swap a piece of bacon for some leftover roast veg, or add a handful of spinach to your smoothie.

2. Rework the ratios on your plate – reduce the portion of meat on your plate, simply add more veg or trade out some of the meat for legumes.

3. Swap some meat meals for vegetarian meals – Using legumes are an easy swap, e.g. chickpeas, lentils, split peas, mung beans, soy beans, pinto beans, red kidney beans and cannellini beans. They can be eaten instead of meat or mixed into a dish to reduce the amount of meat you need to use. Google for recipes, legumes are a common ingredient of cuisines from all around the world so you can take your taste buds on a journey!

Fundamentally, a plant-based diet is plant-rich and low in animal products. It is more of an overall eating pattern that includes plant-focused diets, such as vegan, rather than being a diet in and of itself. The focus is on filling your plate with plant foods, and then adding in a small amount of animal foods, if or when you want it.

If, in changing to a more plant-rich diet you decide to go all in and go vegan – please talk to your GP or practise nurse and get help from a dietitian or registered nutritionist. It can take careful planning to get all of the essential nutrients you need especially for pregnant/breastfeeding women, infants and young children.

If you need some help to figure out how to best navigate this diet - book a FREE, no obligation chat to see how I can help you out.