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  • Writer's pictureSarah Skelton

Thinking of trying a plant-based way of eating?

Updated: May 27, 2019

Plant-based lifestyle (often known as vegan)

You might wonder why I talk about 'plant-based' eating rather than vegan. The reason is simple, I think talking about plant-based is less scary for anyone looking to adapt what they eat. Going vegan also carries an ethical element that some may or may-not wish to follow. For me plant-based is a softer approach for anyone who is used to animal based foods in their life. At the end of the day it’s down to the individual to decided the lifestyle they feel works best for them - as long as it’s healthy, balanced and varied all is good!

A well balanced plant-based lifestyle can provide all the essential nutrients, and nutritional guidelines needed to keep your body healthy.  Following a plant based lifestyle does require a bit of thought because certain essential vitamins are naturally found in animal based foods, in particular B12. However once you have it mastered nothing is stopping you.

If you are just starting to dip your toes into an animal free diet then here are some tips that will help you to get started. It's important to progress at your own pace, some people manage to go entirely plant-based/vegan overnight, but not everyone does. It's essential to take it a stage at a time if that's what works for you. Like any other lifestyle change, going entirely plant-based not only takes getting used to, but it takes time to find out what will work best for you. There are various tactics that you can try, and the most effective is to start making small changes to your everyday meals by decreasing the amount of animal-based products and increasing the plant-based ones. It's fine to just do a few days a week at a time, you may have heard of 'Meat Free Monday', and this has become very popular because it's not so hardcore.

There's a plant-based alternative for almost every type of food you can think of, so you don't have to miss out on any of your favourite foods or convince your self that you are never going to eat good food again. It just takes a little more thought to start with.

Try something new by swapping out ingredients; you’ll be amazed at how simply you can make a brand new delicious recipe by just changing one element. Don’t forget to use herbs and spices to get extra flavour.

The simple things in life - How do you make a good cup of tea or coffee? It's a good question because not all plant kinds of milk are created equal. Dairy milk tastes like dairy milk no matter which brand you buy. Plant milk, however, has a different flavour depending on which plant is used. You need to find the type that you like, and the only real way to do it is experiment. The same applies when making things such as porridge, try hazelnut milk to give a richer nuttier flavour or coconut milk to give a creamier taste.

What do I do about eggs? Eggs can be replaced in recipes by egg replacer products available from health food stores. If you are wanting to make meringues, use the water canned chickpeas are stored in - yes really!! It’s technical name is aquafaba and if you whisk it long enough it forms soft meringue style peaks, and you can use it in the same way. TIP use an electric whisk as you will be whisking for a good 5 - 10 minutes and your arms might drop off with a hand whisk ;)

Key food groups to consider

Protein:  Nuts and seeds, pulses, wholegrain and wheat products, quinoa, tofu and soya products all provide protein.

Essential fats: Good sources of essential fatty acids are found in nuts and seeds such as chia, hemp and flax seeds, walnuts, edamame (soy beans), kidney beans cashew nuts, vegetable oils, and soya bean or rapeseed oils may be a better choice than sunflower or corn oils. 

Vitamins:  It’s important for everyone to ensure an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals and whilst if you have a varied and balanced diet you might wish to consider taking a multi vitamin - if you are unsure why not check with your GP or practice nurse.

  • Vitamin B2 – riboflavin Riboflavin is important in converting protein, fats and carbohydrates into energy, and the synthesis and repair of body tissues. Make sure that you include whole grains, mushrooms, leafy green vegetables and yeast extracts. 

Vitamin B12 -  is important in the formation of red blood cells and the maintenance of a healthy nervous system. Many foods are now fortified with B12. Amongst these are certain yeast extracts such as marmite, fortified breakfast cereals, and fortified dairy free milks.

  • Vitamin D - Making sure you get outside regularly is key to having enough Vitamin D. Vitamin D is synthesised by the skin when exposed to sunlight. This is usually adequate to supply all the body's requirements. Choosing vitamin D fortified foods provides additional insurance. If you are house bound then I’d recommend you speak to your GP about supplements.

Calcium: Calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth. Vegans can obtain adequate calcium from plant foods. Good sources include tofu, leafy green vegetables, watercress, dried fruit such as dried apricots, and seeds and nuts such as almonds.  White bread is fortified with calcium. Fortified, unsweetened dairy free milk drinks are also good sources of calcium.

Iron: Choose pulses, green vegetables such as watercress, broccoli, spring greens and okra, bread and fortified breakfast cereals. It’s easier to absorb iron from food if you eat it alongside foods that contain vitamin C, so have some fruit or vegetables, or a glass of fruit juice with your meal.

Fruit and vegetables: You should eat your 5 portions of fruit and veg per day, ideally keep to a max of two pieces/servings of fruit per day to control your sugar intake. Keep your veggies varied, different colour veg will provide different vitamins and minerals - so the rainbow effect is the look you are going for!

Carbs: Still have those starchy foods such as pasta, rice, cereals and pulses such as beans, peas and lentils as they are essential to wellbeing regardless of what eating style you follow.

Here are a couple of good links you might want to check out!

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