Thinking About: Eating a Plant-based Diet
A plant-based diet consists primarily of vegetables, wholegrains, oils, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruit and soy products like tofu and tempeh. There are compelling environmental reasons to cut down on the amount of meat, fish and dairy products we are all consuming, or at least, to make more conscious choices on those occasions where we do choose to eat a modest amount of animal produce.
However, with my nutrition ‘hat’ on, I believe it is important to be nutritionally informed when choosing to adopt a completely plant-based diet for the long-term (i.e., beyond Veganuary), to make sure we’re giving our bodies everything we need to function optimally.
It can sometimes be assumed that being plant-based is shorthand for being healthy, but it is a diet that requires thought and careful planning to make sure we’re not missing important nutrients. It is also not an instant weight-loss diet. It is more than possible to eat a highly-processed and refined, sugar-heavy plant-based diet.
See my article: 9 key nutrients to be aware of in a plant-based diet
Therefore, if you are considering making the move to eating plant-based for more than a few weeks or so, I would highly recommend booking an appointment, even just as a one-off with a nutrition professional. I would particularly advocate this if you are cooking for children or adolescents, considering (or are) pregnant or lactating, are a performance athlete or have a pre-existing medical condition – although it’s a useful investment in yourself and your health for anyone thinking about going plant-based for good.
Alongside potentially seeking some professional support, it’s a sensible idea to learn a bit of nutritional science and to be conscious about food combinations, nutrient bioavailability and safe supplementation.
I think it takes commitment to eat a balanced and nutritionally complete plant-based diet that supports long-term health. Of course, that’s not to say that it isn’t possible and indeed joyful to eat a plant-based and balanced diet – it absolutely is. But my experience of working alongside clients making this shift has taught me that it can take more effort and thought to do so than if you are eating an omnivorous one. See my article on ‘9 key nutrients to be aware of in a plant-based diet’ if you’d like to dive into more detail on the nutritional aspects of this.
Therefore, while I wholeheartedly support and defend our individual right to choose a diet that aligns with our personal thoughts, feelings and needs, I want to suggest that sometimes, the most compassionate option is to avoid making completely hard-and-fast rules around food. While we may well choose to eat a mainly plant-based diet, perhaps we might allow ourselves to occasionally include some carefully-sourced oily fish or eggs, for example. Or be more relaxed at special occasions or when dining with friends and family. One idea may be to focus on other aspects of our lifestyle (such as our choice of transport or holidays, use of plastics, fashion choices or energy provider) to reduce our environmental impact ‘in exchange’ for this dietary flexibility.
It’s also worth mentioning that, for some people, eating a plant-based diet might not be the best option from a symptom or health perspective (perhaps if you struggle with a higher-fibre diet, for example). As always, we are all unique, and therefore need different things from our diets at different points in our lives. So You do You. It’s OK to be a considered omnivore!
A note on TV shows…
There have recently been a number of influential and powerful ‘documentaries’ made about vegan or plant-based lifestyles. While these have opened the conversation around environmentally conscious food options, I would always urge caution when basing your personal nutrition or health decisions on such television shows alone. They are not generally considered to be the best places to find perfectly balanced and rational arguments (as this would make for rather dry viewing!) and may therefore not recommend the best choice for you as an individual.
For an evidence-based response to Game Changers, please see this article.
A few helpful resources
For lots of delicious recipe inspiration, check out my Plant Based Bookshelf or there is a 10-day vegan meal plan in Nourish & Glow: The 10 Day Plan. There are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan ideas in my latest cookbook, Simply Good For You.
The Vegan Society has created an App to help you assess the quality of your plant-based diet: click here for info.
Vegan & Vegetarian Q & A: View here
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Please note that the information on this website is provided for general information only, it should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional providing personalised nutrition or lifestyle advice. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider.
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