When you are first exploring a plant-based diet you will most likely have lots of questions about it. There is so much information out there around 'going Vegan' and it can sometimes be confusing, so in this article we’re answering some of the key questions.
What is a plant-based diet?
Let’s start at the very beginning and define what a plant-based diet is. According to the British Dietetics Association, “A plant-based diet is based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits, with few or no animal products.” 1
In essence, a plant-based diet is exactly that - based on plants with few or no animal products.
So is a plant-based diet the same as being vegan?
The short answer to this that it CAN be, depending on what you eat and your lifestyle. There are various types of plant-based diets, of which vegan is one, so let’s explore a little further.
The various types of plant-based diets include:
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian - this diet is based on plants, but also includes dairy products and eggs. Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not eat poultry, meat or seafood.
- Ovo-vegetarian - Similar to above, except dairy products are also excluded
- Lacto-vegetarian - Similar, except it exclude eggs, but includes dairy products
- Vegan - does not include any animal products at all, excluding meat, seafood, poultry, dairy, eggs and honey. Beyond the dietary factors, vegans also exclude as far as possible from their lifestyle any products related to the exploitation of, and cruelty to animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.2
There are further variations of a plant based diet, including pescatarian, where seafood are included and only meat and poultry are excluded.
What is becoming more popular is the flexi-tarian diet. This is where meat and poultry are eaten only occasionally, and is often a stepping stone to moving to a more fully plant-based diet.
Can everyone eat a plant-based diet?
Given the range of plant-based diet variations we just looked at, the answer is a resounding yes. Everyone can benefit from including more plants in their diet, and the extent to which animal products are excluded is a case of personal choice and what feels best for your body. Going a step further, the British Dietetics Association has affirmed that a well-planned vegan diet can support people of all ages.3 However, if you have any particular health needs you should always consult your doctor before making significant changes to your diet. You can also find out more about other things to bear in mind when switching to a completely plant-based diet here.
Is a plant-based diet a healthier option?
If the diet is well balanced and includes a variety of plants and whole foods then the answer is absolutely yes. This is due to two factors. The first is that by eating a wide range of plants we consume an abundance of beneficial phytonutrients which are not found in animal products. The second reason is that by reducing or eliminating the consumption of animal products, we also reduce our exposure to certain less beneficial constituents, including saturated fat, cholesterol and heavy metals.
In fact, some research has linked plant-based diets with lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduced rates of type II diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer.4
Do I get all the nutrients I need from plants only?
As we already discussed, a well-planned and varied plant-based diet can support people of all ages and is a great way to reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases. However, if you intend to follow a fully plant-based vegan diet, there are a few things to bear in mind to ensure you are getting an adequate amount of everything your body needs. This is where the well-planned part comes in, to consciously eat a wide variety of plant foods, but also to take a high quality supplement where appropriate to ensure you are getting adequate amounts of Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Iodine and Omega-3.
Will I feel hungry all the time on a plant-based diet?
Not at all, provided you plan your meals well to include a range of foods. For example, including foods high in protein and healthy fats is a great way to stay feeling fuller for longer. This could look like adding nut butters, seeds, avocado etc to your meals. Also by substantiating your meals with wholegrains, such as wholegrain rice, buckwheat, quinoa and oats you will stay fuller for longer, while getting all the great health benefits of wholegrains.
Is a plant-based diet beneficial for healthy weight management?
Following a plant-based diet is a great way to help maintain a healthy weight and body mass index - along with regular exercise of course. In fact research has shown that individuals following a well balanced plant-based diet are more likely to have a healthy BMI and less likely to be overweight. This was found to be due to increased fibre and decreased protein intake in plant-based diets.5
Is a plant-based diet more expensive?
In fact, eating a whole-food plant based diet is a fantastic way to keep your food budget in check. By focussing on local, seasonal produce and budget-friendly plant-based protein sources such as beans and legumes you are sure to reduce your food costs. Eating plant-based can get more expensive when you opt for pre-packaged and pre-prepared options, which can be relatively expensive. You can read a whole host of tips for eating plant-based on a budget here.
So with that, hopefully we have satisfied some of your curiosity to these questions and given you the confidence to move forward in your plant-based journey. As with anything, the best way to learn is to get started. Experiment and find out what works best for you so that you feel your best physically, mentally and emotionally.
The British Dietetics Association. Plant-Based Diet.
The Vegan Society Definition of Veganism.
British Dietetic Association confirms well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages.
The Vegan Society. Why go Vegan.
- Spencer, E. A., Appleby, P. N., Davey, G. K., & Key, T. J. (2003). Diet and body mass index in 38000 EPIC-Oxford meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 27(6), 728–734.