What is a Plant-Based Diet?

Plant-based diet

Vegan, plant-based, flexitarian – there are so many ways to describe diets that reduce our meat and dairy intakes. So many, it can be hard to keep up with what means what!

Adding to the challenge is that labels can mean different things to different people. Some believe that plant-based means no meat, dairy, eggs or other animal products.

Others have the opinion that plant-based means 100% natural foods. That is, no processed or packaged food – vegetarian, vegan or otherwise.

Then there’s veganism. Purists believe this is different to eating plant-based. Being a vegan not only means avoiding consuming all animal products. It also means avoiding wearing animal skins and furs and even avoiding duck down duvets.

So what exactly is a plant-based diet? What can you eat on this diet? What shouldn’t you eat? Is it tricky getting the right nutrients? What about eating out?

We’ve got all the answers you need, so here goes!

What Can I Eat on a Plant-Based Diet?

There are so many delicious and varied foods you can eat on a plant-based diet. Just because meat, fish and dairy are out, you can still enjoy flavoursome food.

You can eat all manner of fruits and vegetables and your plant-based adventures could mean that you discover entirely new ones. Beans, lentils, chickpea, nuts and seeds are all in too. Beans are completely versatile and can be made into curry, chilli, bolognaise, burgers and dips.

Plant-based meals can be cost effective too, filling you up for less than the cost of meat. You can even enjoy mayonnaise, ‘fish’ sauce and salad dressings!

What Can’t I Eat and What Are the Alternatives?

Meat, fish and dairy might be out but there are plenty of plant-based swaps you can make.

Often, finding dairy alternatives can prove tricky. Whilst most foods can be swapped out for plant-based alternatives, finding the right milk? That’s a different story.

But we did a lot of research to find the best plant-based milk for coffee so that you don’t have to!

Cheese is a different challenge again. Here’s what we thought of some plant-based cheeses. Although not technically the whole foods associated with a plant-based diet, they are all fully vegan. (And we’re pleased to say that things are improving all the time.)

plant-based diet - coconut yoghurt

Do Packaged Foods Count as Plant-Based?

A common idea when thinking of a plant-based diet is “no meat or animal products”. This suggests that packaged convenience foods are okay – as long as they don’t contain any animal products. Depending on the definition you read, this is wrong on a sliding scale.

According to Forks Over Knives, plant-based is a diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. It excludes meat, dairy products and eggs. It also excludes highly refined foods like bleached flour, white sugar, and oils.

So perhaps convenience food isn’t in the spirit of plant-based?

A true plant-based diet consists of delicious meals made with fresh produce with no animal products or packaged foods in sight.

Where Do I Get My Protein From?

A common misconception is that you can’t get enough protein on a plant-based diet. But this simply isn’t true! A plant-based diet can provide all the protein you need, without a steak or a boiled egg in sight.

Here, we talk about balancing protein and here we rave about the merits of baked beans!

A (Startling) Note on Grass Fed Beef

When researching plant-based diets, you’ll find a wealth of information. And many conflicting opinions.

Some of the definitions are quite strict, saying that all animal products should be excluded from a plant-based diet. Other sources used terms like “reduce” and “minimise” rather than flat-out banning them.

One article even suggested that grass fed beef was plant-based:

“A [plant-based diet (PBD)] is a diet that’s heavy in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. It’s NOT vegetarian NOR vegan. i think that’s a HUGE misconception/misuse of the phrase. you still eat fish, red meat, poultry, and dairy. those who claim a PBD diet is indeed vegan are INcorrect…that would just make it vegan, haha. but this is plant-BASED.”

“when you eat meats and dairy products, try to buy from your local farmers market, and limit your meat consumption to grass-fed, hormone-free, wild meats and organic, hormone-free dairy products.”

This quote, typos and all, may not sound quite right to most plant-based folks. But one thing is for sure: there’s a lot of different viewpoints of what plant-based means.

plant-based burger

Are There Hidden Ingredients I Need to Look out For?

Watch out for ingredients such as whey and milk powders. These are both made with dairy and are often sneaked into foods that you wouldn’t expect.

Also look out for foods that contain red dyes. These usually appear in ingredients lists as cochineal, which is actually crushed up beetles.

Beer and wine can be tricky too. Often animal products are used in the final processing of these drinks to make them less cloudy.

Also, honey. You might not think it, but honey is an animal product and should technically be avoided on a plant-based diet.

As a general rule, if a food is marked as suitable for vegans, then it’s ok for a plant-based diet. That said, not all vegan food is labelled as such, so expect to become a label reading super sleuth.

Are There Any Good Online Resources?

Yes! Us! At Eco & Beyond we’re passionate about providing solid, actionable advice about all aspects of living more sustainably. This includes how to embrace eating a plant-based diet.

Make sure you’re signed up to our mailing list and our Facebook community group. You’ll find loads of useful resources to inspire and guide you.

If you’re wondering where to begin going plant-based, our downloadable guide contains all you need to know.

Veganuary and the Vegan Society are also great for advice and inspiration.

What if My Family Eat Meat and Love Cheese?!

If your household are all eating different meals, then we understand – eating plant-based on your own is going to be harder.

But you don’t have to turn plant-based overnight. Asking your family to support you by eating plant-based meals once or twice a week may help. And you never know, they might find it all so tasty that they follow in your footsteps!

Is a Plant-Based Diet Safe for Children?

Getting the whole family on board can be challenging enough. But worrying that the youngest members might miss out on vital nutrients can be tough too.

Children can certainly thrive on a plant-based diet. They just might need some extra help with vitamin D drops. (It’s recommended that all kids under five have vitamin D supplements.)

plant-based - eating out

Is it Difficult Eating out on a Plant-Based Diet?

It’s becoming so much easier to eat out on a plant-based diet. High street chains are adding plant-based options to their menus.

Independent cafes offering entire plant-based menus are popping up everywhere. Even buying a healthy whole grain plant-based sandwich on the go is becoming easier.

If you’re thinking of going plant-based, now’s the time to do it!

Is the Plant-Based Diet for Me?

You may find the idea of plant-based diet a bit restrictive and unappealing. If this is the case you might decide that a flexitarian diet is more sustainable and suitable for you.

The flexitarian diet reduces meat and animal products rather than completely removing them. This should make the transition to lower meat consumption more palatable. It’s also a great stepping stone for going plant-based if you want to.

Whichever diet you choose (and it is absolutely your choice!) you’ll find it much easier given the recent trend of plant-based, vegan and vegetarian eating.

There are loads of great alternatives and plant-based options in most restaurants. If you need some help with meat-free meals, check out allplants. They deliver plant-based ready meals straight to your door.

It’s thought that if we all went vegetarian by 2050, food-related carbon emissions would drop by 60%. If the world went vegan, emissions would decline by around 70%.

Going plant-based, vegan or vegetarian even for one day a week can raise awareness and spark conversations. You could inspire someone else to do the same. Find what works for you, love your food and spread the word!