Tag Archives: Plant based diets

Should I eat more plant based diet?

What are the benefits?

Plant based diets (PBD’s) are better for the environment and provide a more sustainable way of eating. There are also health benefits due to eating more plants altering the nutritional profile of your body. 

PBD’s tend to be lower in saturated fat due to less meat. They usually contain higher amounts of fruit and vegetables which means higher fibre content for digestive health (those bowels) and a greater range of antioxidant plus phytochemicals. 

The inclusion of wholegrains provides B vitamins and fibre, beans/pulses for soluble fibre and these help with blood sugar control, soy products provide phytoestrogens that can be helpful in the menopause plus nuts and and seeds that are packed with antioxidants and micronutrients.

Some specific health benefits:

Research shows us that PBDs can lead to lower levels of total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. This is going to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

 Also improvements can be seen in serum glucose levels which helps in overall health and in type 2 diabetes control. 

There has been shown to be a lower level of overall inflammation in the body. These factors combines are thought to contribute to a reduced risk of chronic diseases. 

Does this mean we should all go vegetarian/vegan? Well not necessarily. What I do think it means is that having a greater emphasis on eating plants sources of food is helpful and healthful. As with all ways of eating there are many ways to do it, so the benefits you see on paper will depend on how you actually approach this way of life. This in my mind is about adding in plant foods more than taking things away. 

Will I be missing out nutrients?

It is perfectly possible to meet your nutritional needs on a PBD. However you will need to be more intentional about it. Planning and being thoughtful about some key nutrients plus a couple of supplements will ensure you get all your body needs.

Protein : It can be easier to get protein from animal sources. However this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be eating plant proteins! Most people in the UK are exceeding their protein needs, especially with the focus on protein in so many snack foods right now.  When calorie needs are met it is more than possible to meet your protein requirements on a PBD. However it is a good idea to vary your protein sources through the week so that cover all those essential amino acids the body needs.

  • Mycoprotein, soya protein and pea protein 
  • Beans and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Tofu
  • Eggs and dairy (if these are eaten)

Iron : The recommended daily amount of iron for vegetarians is 1.8 times higher that for non-vegetarians, as iron which comes from plant sources (non-haem iron) is less efficiently utilised in our body than iron which comes from animal sources. Eat iron rich foods daily and all should be well. 

  • Iron fortified breakfast cereals
  • Beans
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Wholegrains 
  • Dried fruit 
  • Green leafy vegetables 
  • Yeast extract 
  • Eggs, fish and poultry (if these are eaten)
johnny-mcclung-702726-unsplash

Calcium: one of my hobby horses, as I like to look after my bones. Calcium can be lower on a plant based diet but there are plant foods that will help those bones stay strong. Check your plant based milk is supplemented and get on those leafy greens. Some studies show a lower bone mineral density in those not eating dairy, so this is definitely a nutrient to think about. 

  • Fortified dairy alternatives (like: soya or nut milks and yoghurts)
  • Fortified juice drinks
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Dried fruit
  • Tofu
  • Beans, lentils and chickpeas
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Bread
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Vitamin B12: as this is mainly found in animal products it is one of the nutrients you may end up lacking. It is found in yeast extract and most multivitamins/minerals.

Omega 3 : mainly talked about as being in oily fish but also found in seaweed, linseeds and walnuts. If you know you won’t take in many of these foods you could take a supplement.

  • Seaweed (not recommended more than once per week) 
  • Chia seeds, linseeds/flaxseeds, hemp seeds 
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Walnuts and walnut oil
  • Soybeans and soybean oil
  • Tofu
  • Spreads and breads which are fortified with omega 3
  • Oily fish (if this are eaten)
  • Eggs and dairy which are fortified with omega 3 (if these are eaten)
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Iodine: highlighted in some studies as a nutrient that can be low on a PBD, but also on a meat eaters diet too!

  • Iodised salt
  • A limited amount of fortified dairy alternatives (e.g. specific brands of oat milk) 
  • Seaweed (but this is not recommended more than once per week) 
  • Dairy products and seafood (if these are eaten)

Selenium: mainly found in Brazil nuts so not necessarily a problem on  PBD but a good one to be aware of.

  • Brazil nuts 
  • Eggs and fish (if these are eaten)

Eating Mediterranean to beat the bills

One thing I love about nutrition and dietetics is the conundrum that is complex science that usually translates down to simple health messages. The Mediterranean diet is a great example. The science behind how it all works on the body is long winded actions of  polyphenols and antioxidants. However you don’t really need to worry about all of that. What we really want to know is:

  1. What does the summary of the research say about the health benefits.
  2. How can I translate that into my everyday life.
  3. What do I need to eat and how often. 

A team from Ghent University analysed the research on the Med diet, looking at 8 meta analysis and 10 cohort studies, they founds some pretty huge results.  If we convinced 2% of the UK to eat a more Mediterranean diet it could lead to a saving of £1 billion. Increase this to 10% of the population eating more plant foods, olive oil, soya, nuts and seed would potentially save £5 billion.  Reductions through a decrease in hospital admissions, doctors bills and keeping people healthy to work more days a year. Isn’t it amazing that such simple changes can lead to such huge savings.

A summary of the research showed that a Med diet can:

  • Reduce diabetes risk by 26% 
  • Lead to a 42% reduction in CHD in men and 25% in women
  • 37% reduction in stroke
  • 33% reduction in breast cancer
Med diet reduces disease risk Women Men
Colon cancer

40%

44%

Stomach cancer

42%

29%

Lung cancer

25%

23%

Diabetes

28%

28%

Stroke

36%

9%

Prostrate cancer  

30%

Postmenopausal breast cancer

36%

 
coronary heart disease

4%

4%

Soya beans, soy products and tofu contain phyto-oestrogens. These are bioactive substances in plant foods that have naturally occurring oestrogen activity. Photo oestrogens have been widely studied and there is evidence they can help with menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats. Some bone sparing effects in osteoporosis and they may reduce the risk of certain cancers. They can reduce the risk of heart disease due to their cholesterol lowering effects. Eating more soy can displace the saturated fat intake from meat. 

 

 So the plan from this for you? 

Eat more fruit and vegetables – aim for over 5 portions a day if you can and include soy products in your eating (25g a day = 1 portion).