In 2016, The Vegan Society estimated there to be 540,000 vegans in Great Britain. In the past couple of years, however, the popularity of plant-based diets has surged. Veganism has become a huge trend – Compare the Market conducted a survey in April 2018 which found that over 3.5 million British people now identify as vegan. With more and more vegan restaurants, cookbooks, supermarkets and exposure on social media, plant-based diets are on the up, and it doesn’t look like they’ll slow down.
What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet is one that consists of only plants (fruits and vegetables, grains and nuts) and foods that are made from plants (like soya-bean products). Any foods that come from animals, such as the meat itself, eggs, dairy and honey, are off limits for vegans.
There are vegan treats that are highly processed (Oreos are vegan!), but most plant-based diets minimise the consumption of processed foods. Instead, they focus on getting most of their nutrients from whole foods that are also vegan.
Everyone has different reasons for adopting a vegan lifestyle. Some have been vegans their whole lives, some for health reasons, and others because of ethical and environment reasons.
Becoming a vegan can help with weight loss and appears to improve kidney function when done properly. However, in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it’s important that the nutrients lost from meat are replaced by plant-based foods.
What are plant-based foods?
As discussed, plant-based foods are those that come from plants rather than animal products. In order to eat healthily, these are the plant-based foods that vegans should be eating:
Fruits: Fruits are an easy way to get some natural sugar and sweetness. Grapes, strawberries, apples, bananas – you name it, vegans can eat it.
Vegetables: A way of getting one of your five a day, all vegetables can be eaten by vegans. Spinach, carrots, onions, garlic, avocados… the list is endless.
Whole grains: Brown rice, wholegrain pasta, quinoa and grains are all very popular for getting fibre in a vegan diet.
Protein: A lot of people think that you can only get protein from meat. However, foods like lentils, beans and tofu are bursting with protein and are key to a plant-based diet.
Nuts and seeds: Chia seeds, walnuts, cashews, raw almonds, flaxseeds, quinoa… the list goes on. Nuts and seeds are full of nutrition and are great snacks or additions to soups, curries or stir-fries.
Plant-based beverages: There are many plant-based drinks that will satisfy cravings, quench thirst and deliver great health benefits. Whether it’s a smoothie, ginger ice-tea, or vegetable juice, the benefits are great. Many drinks also contain the nutrients found in dairy so that our bodies aren’t missing out on anything. The brewed Chaga mushroom has been a medicinal beverage for centuries in Russia. It is completely plant-based and is said to improve energy, boost the immune system and help the body fight certain illnesses and diseases. Find out more about Chaga and what it does.
The options for plant-based diets really are endless. The most important thing to do is experiment – work out what you like and dislike, and make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need. Plus, there are now many brands of vegan meat replacements so if you’re suddenly missing chicken, you can satisfy that craving without feeling guilty.
Benefits of a vegan diet
People become vegan for numerous reasons, so it’s not always a health-based decision. Either way, there are many benefits of plant-based diets.
Effects on the environment
In the last few years, there has been lots of discussion around how eating meat negatively effects the environment. Some even say that animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all transport combined. Professor Joseph Poore conducted an extensive study, which stated that meat, especially beef, results in up to 105kg of greenhouse gases per 100g, while tofu produces less than 3.5kg.
Lots of people are unaware (intentionally or not) to what goes on behind the scenes on many farms and factories across the globe. With many farms involved in unethical treatment of animals and workers, some people have said enough is enough, and started following plant-based diets. Eating plant-based foods frees people of the guilt they may experience as they know that no living thing is being harmed in the production of the food we enjoy.
It is common for people on plant-based diets to rely heavily on healthy foods like fruit and vegetables as well as whole grains, beans and nuts. There are obviously unhealthy, processed vegan foods but if these are avoided or eaten in moderation, a plant-based diet can have many health benefits.
Plant-based diets typically contain fewer saturated fats than meats which can reduce the risk of heart disease. They are also less likely to cause foodborne illnesses that can be found in meat, poultry and seafood. Many people also turn to veganism in the hope of losing weight. This can be done as plant-based diets can contain fewer calories, however people still need to be strict with what they are eating.
- “Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options”, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2008.