Depending on where you look, you might find the term ‘plant-based’ defined in many different ways. Generally speaking, eating a plant-based diet places emphasis on fruits, veggies and whole foods whilst eliminating animal-based products.
You may be considering adopting a plant-based diet, whether that’s due to environmental, health or animal welfare concerns. But sifting through the stacks of information online can be a challenge. It could all end up making you feel a little clueless on where to start.
Animal activist or environmentalist. Flexitarian or reducetarian. Follow these basic principles of plant-based nutrition and the rest will come naturally.
Balance Your Macros
Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are the energy (calorie) containing component of our diets. In the UK, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) provides reference values for these macronutrients. Here’s what they recommend:
Carbohydrates Should Contribute Around 50% of Your Total Energy Intake
Starchy vegetables and whole grains make a good base for a plant-based meal. These high-fibre, nutrient-rich foods will promote a happy gut and keep you fuller for longer. Aim to include the following foods in your diet:
- Sweet potato / butternut squash
- Bulgur wheat
Fats Should Contribute Less Than 35%
Whilst you should limit your intake of cholesterol-raising saturated fats (palm oil, processed sweet treats and those fats present in animal products), don’t rule out this macronutrient altogether.
Unsaturated fats are the good guys. Drizzle your salads with olive or rapeseed oil. Sprinkle nuts or seeds onto your porridge and eat avocado every so often to get the benefits.
- Omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fatty acids that your body is unable to produce itself. They’re abundant in oily fish but as these won’t be present in your new plant-based diet, be sure to incorporate the following foods:
- Omega 3 – linseeds (also known as flaxseeds), chia seeds, walnuts and hemp seeds
- Omega 6 – almonds, brazil nuts, hemp seeds, sesame seeds and soya beans
Aim to Eat 0.75g of Protein per Kg of Your Body Weight
(That’s an average of around 45g per day for women and 55g per day for men.)
We do not need animal products to meet our protein requirements. Plant-based diets are quite capable of delivering protein in abundance! Choose from these hearty sources:
- Tofu, tempeh, Quorn and seitan
- Legumes (beans and pulses)
- Quinoa, spelt, amaranth
- Nuts and seeds (especially chia and hemp seeds)
Variety Really Is the Spice (and Enjoyment) of Life!
You may have heard the expression “eat a rainbow”, and you really should!
As well as macronutrients, your body requires adequate amounts of essential micronutrients (vitamins & minerals). This means eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. The more variety colour-wise, the better. So include berries, apples, citrus fruits, peppers, carrots, green leafy veg and salads on a daily basis.
Anyone on a plant-based diet should keep an eye on their calcium intake. Non-dairy options include leafy greens, tahini and fortified dairy alternatives.
Boost Your B12 (and Maybe Your Vitamin D Too)
Vitamin B12 is tricky to get from a plant-based diet. It’s produced by the bacteria in the stomachs of animals, and those eating meat get a plentiful supply. So unless you’re loading up on foods supplemented with vitamin B12 (yeast extract & fortified cereals), you should consider taking a daily supplement.
Likewise, if you don’t see the sun too often, vitamin D capsules are a good idea. Most of our vitamin D is synthesised by the skin when its in direct sunlight. Dairy is a rich source of vitamin D, so it could be easy to become deficient without a supplement. Mushrooms are also a great source, so fill up on fungi!
Going Back to Basics and Keeping it Simple
It’s great to see such a positive movement become so accepted and integrated within society. But try not to get so caught up in too many food fads when you first start out. Activated charcoal and mushroom lattes are great, but don’t allow them to make you forget what’s really important.
When following a new diet we often fall into a pattern of monotony. We repeatedly make the same food choices due to ease, satisfaction and practicality. (I’m thinking daily avo on toast… we’ve all been there.)
The secret to a nourishing plant-based diet is variety. Follow these general nutrition guidelines, making sure your diet includes a variety of foods from each of the major food groups. With a little practice, it’ll become second nature to meet your plant-based needs by consuming whole foods, supplements and fortified dairy alternatives.