What is a plant-based diet?
As the name suggestions, a plant-based diet is an eating regimen that consists mostly of plant-derived foods. The diet has become popular in the last couple of years as it is not as strict as the vegan diet, has numerous health benefits and is strongly opposed to animal cruelty plus it has numerous environmental benefits. Some of the biggest celebrities around the world swear by the regimen for health and vitality including Will.I.Am, Beyonce, Jenna Dewan and Matt Frazier.
But what do the experts have to say about it? Firstly, the World Health Organisation gave the regimen the all-clear last year with their experts recommending that “households should select predominantly plant-based diets rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, pulses or legumes, and minimally processed starchy staple foods." Then we spoke to Jess Spendlove from the Health & Performance Collective for the nitty-gritty details.
What are the benefits of a plant-based diet?
One of the main benefits of eating a plant-based diet is that it is “rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre.” This is due to the large quantities of vegetables, legumes and fruits that are consumed.
Jess continues that there is also “evidence showing plant-based diets have a positive relationship with reducing risk of diabetes, heart disease and a number of cancers.”
What are the disadvantages and are there any risks?
Similar to switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet Jess recommends that new participants be more conscious of their nutrient intake, specifically of iron, calcium and B12.
Whilst, “some of these nutrients are still found in plant foods it is in lower amounts, or they need to be consumed with other nutrients to match the same absorption as in animal products.” Which is why, Spendlove, who is also the GWS AFL teams sports dietitian, participants need to be prepared and do their research.
“For example, non-haem iron, that is found in plant foods needs to be consumed with vitamin C (ascorbic acid) to help with the conversion to haem iron in the body.”
Does it help with weight loss?
As with any regimen if your energy intake is reduced it can subsequently result in weight loss. Jess explains that “it is all depending on the choices that somebody makes. [A plant-based diet] won’t necessarily result in weight loss.”
In saying that vegetables contain far less energy than meat and dairy. For example, one cup of spinach contains 48 calories, whereas one chicken thigh contains 135 calories or the equivalent of 2.5 cups of spinach.
Is plant based the same as vegan?
No, a plant-based diet encourages the consumption of a mostly plant-based diet which excludes processed vegan foods such as bread, desserts and refined vegan foods. Whereas a vegan diet solely excludes all animal products.
Is plant based the same as a raw food diet?
No, you can still eat cooked foods on a plant-based diet.
How would one go about transitioning to a plant-based diet?
For those wanting to transition to a plant-based diet, Jess Spendlove recommends “switching over time rather than making drastic adjustments.” For example “aim to have one or two plant-based days per week, and then seeing how you feel and respond.”
There is an abundance of evidence supporting an increasing amount of plant-based foods in the diet and “while some people may like to switch to a completely plant-based diet, others may find a more flexible approach which still includes animal protein, but has more plant-based meals, might benefit them.”
What does one need to be aware of before switching to a plant-based diet?
“The risk of certain nutritional deficiencies is increased when following a purely plant-based diet.” Talk to your doctor or accredited practising dietitian before many any drastic lifestyle changes.