Do plant-based diets live up to the hype? A dietician weighs in

Jan 13, 2020
Plant-based eating emphasises real, whole foods that come from plants, with few or no animal products. Source: Getty

Veganism is becoming more and more popular, with many people opting to follow a plant-based diet — a far cry from the meat and three veg dinners most Baby Boomers grew up with. Generally, plant-based eating emphasises real, whole foods that come from plants, with few or no animal products.

There’s no question we should all be eating far less meat, but is going vegan really worth it? Starts at 60 spoke to leading dietician Susie Burrell to find out whether it’s worth the hype.

The health benefits of eating a plant-based diet

Burrell says incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet is always a good idea as it offers a number of health benefits including a lower risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

“A good diet is always built on the foundation of plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables,” she says.

“While the suggested serve is two to five per day, I recommend seven to 10 per day for optimal health. Eating vegan or vegetarian is a fantastic way to up your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables, as without meat you need to bulk up your meals.”

Adopting a plant-based diet not only benefits your waistline, it can also improve your health. Some studies suggest that diets rich in vegetables and fruits may help slow or prevent cognitive decline in older adults.

“However, removing meat and dairy products from your diet is not without its disadvantages,” Burrell warns.

“Without solid research and planning, vegetarian and vegan diets can lower your intake of key nutrients like B12, iron and protein. It’s important to identify the gaps in your diet and ensure you eat enough of the right foods to fill those gaps.”

Transitioning to plant-based eating

Burrell says there’s no need to quit eating meat altogether. By simply limiting the amount you eat, you can still reap the benefits.

For example, rather than piling on the meat at dinner, aim to fill half your plate with vegetables, one quarter with meat and the last quarter with grains. And just as reducing the quantity of meat in a diet is important, it’s also vital to pick the best quality of meat (if you choose to eat it, that is). She advices tucking into some oily fish, such as salmon or tuna, very lean red meat, chicken or turkey.

However, if you’re toying with the idea of going plant-based, easing into it is the way to go. Burrell suggests committing to at least one or two plant-based meals each week. Instead of opting for an easy swap like a veggie patty or sausage, Burrell recommends adding more nutrient-dense foods, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas and nuts into your diet as a substitute.

“Nuts are a fantastic and vegan-friendly source of protein, which should be consumed daily,” she says. “This could be a plain handful, a natural nut spread on bread or veggie sticks or used in cooking.”

Burrell recommends whipping up a bean-based dish like bean nachos, crafting a tofu veggie stir fry or dishing up an easy egg-free frittata for those nights when you just don’t feel like cooking. To ensure you’re meeting your body’s nutritional needs, serve up veggies and legumes alongside a hearty plate of brown rice, pasta or crusty wholegrain bread.

It’s also important you’re getting enough calcium, Burrell says. A calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, which causes the bones to become brittle, and may also cause numbness in fingers and toes, muscle cramps, brittle nails, dry skin and tooth decay. Aside from almond or soy milk, there are many plant-based sources of calcium, including certain leafy green vegetables, broccoli, almonds, seeds and oranges.

Feeling inspired? Here’s a delicious chocolate pudding recipe.

Chocolate and peanut butter mousse pudding 

Mouse ingredients

  • 1 avocado
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp Mayver’s Peanut Butter

Chia pudding ingredients

  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 tbsp Mayver’s Peanut Butter
  • 2 dates
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/3 cup chia seeds

Method

  1. To create the chocolate mousse layer, mash the avocado and banana then mix all ingredients together in a bowl
  2. For the chia pudding, mix all ingredients except the chia seeds in a blender until you have a smoothie paste
  3. Add in the chia seeds and thoroughly mix through. Allow the pudding to sit for 10 to 15 minutes
  4. Layer the mousse at the bottom of the jar and add in the chia pudding above.

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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What are your thoughts on this? Have you tried going meat-free for a day or a week?

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