Answers to your plant-based diet questions

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
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21 January 2020

Common plant-based diet questions

As I have mentioned in my previous blogs, plant-based diets are becoming increasingly popular since they are nutritious and provide many health benefits!

There are a few questions surrounding plant-based diets, so today I'm going to answer 5 common ones, including:

  • Is a plant-based diet the same as a vegan diet?
  • How do I begin a plant-based diet?
  • Does a plant-based diet make you lose weight?
  • Can I eat honey on a plant-based diet?
  • Can I eat dairy products on a plant-based diet?

1. Is a plant-based diet the same as a vegan diet?

This is an interesting question that comes up quite often when discussing a plant-based diet as the term becomes more popular. Some people believe that eating a plant-based diet means consuming only plant foods, and they would class a plant-based diet and a vegan diet as the same thing.

However, many people believe that, while a plant-based diet consists mainly of plant foods (like fruit, veg and grains), it can also contain some portions of good quality meat, dairy and eggs. The emphasis here is on the term 'plant-based' as the main bulk of the diet is made up of fresh fruit and veggies, but is not exclusively vegan.

We know that everyone is individual when it comes to diet (see my earlier blog on vegetarians, pescatarians and even flexitarians!), so I'd always recommend choosing what works best for you. When talking about plant-based diets, here at A.Vogel we are referring to a diet that:

  • Consists mainly of plant foods like fruit, veggies and grains
  • May Include some portions of good quality meat and fish
  • May Incorporate other animal products like eggs, dairy and honey.

So, there is no right answer to this question! We know that everyone is individual when it comes to diet and we always encourage people to eat more fresh, whole foods that are rich in nutrients. Adding more plant foods into your diet is a great place to start if you are trying to eat healthily and cut down on processed foods.

2. How do I begin a plant-based diet?

Are you thinking of following a plant-based diet but don't know where to start? Below I have included some handy tips on how to start a plant-based diet.

As with any diet, it is best to ease yourself into it gradually. If you're a regular meat eater, for example, don't go "cold turkey" straight away as this will make it more difficult to stick to your new regime. Start off with one meat-free day a week (such as a meatless Monday) and gradually increase your meat-free days.

At the same time, increase your intake of fruit and vegetables. It is recommended that half your plate should be filled with vegetables at lunch and dinner.1 It is also important to include a variety of vegetables in your diet (don't eat the same veggies every day!) and include plenty of colours to make your meals look appetising. As well as including them in your meals, you can also enjoy vegetables like carrots and cucumber as a snack with hummus or salsa.

Rather than snacking on crisps, other fried snacks, poor quality chocolate and sweeties, snack on dried fruits, seeds and/or unsalted nuts. These contain fibre which helps you to feel fuller for longer. This may, in turn, reduce cravings and prevent you from snacking on more unhealthy foods.

For more ideas on how to include vegetables in your diet, check out my blog 'How can you get more fruit and veg into your diet'.

3. Does a plant-based diet make you lose weight?

Plant-based diets have several health benefits and weight loss can be one of them. This goes hand in hand with a healthy lifestyle, however, and can vary from person to person.

Research has found that those who follow plant-based diets tend to have a lower BMI compared to those who don't.2 This particular review also concluded that plant-based diets are effective for weight loss.

On the other hand, one study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those who consumed an unhealthy version of a plant-based diet (refined grains, potato/fries, sweets and sweetened drinks) gained 0.36kg in weight.3 Highly processed or refined foods are unlikely to do you much good, even if originally based on plant ingredients.

Why plant-based diets can help weight loss

Foods such as fruit and vegetables contain fibre which can help you feel fuller for longer, thereby reducing the need to snack on unhealthy, high energy density foods. This could, ultimately, aid weight loss.

Furthermore, plant-based diets tend to be lower in saturated fats which have been linked to weight gain and several heart-related problems.4 So, consuming plant-based foods may help to keep your heart and weight healthy!

Eating more plants tends to improve the way your bowel functions, meaning you aren't as likely to carry around excess kilos of slow-moving waste in your gut.

Why plant-based diets may not help weight loss

Do you regularly indulge in treats such as veggie chips? Some brands of veggie chips are fried rather than baked, plus they are topped with salt. Too much salt has been linked to contributing towards weight gain – one reason being that salt makes you thirsty and can increase the amount of fluids that you drink.5 Salt also contributes to fluid retention. So it may be worth cutting down on the fried veggie chips. As a healthy alternative, why not try our Kale chips recipe? They taste amazing!

There could be other simple reasons for weight gain whilst following a plant-based diet, including:

  • Your portion sizes are too big. Antique plates are smaller in circumference than modern equivalents so perhaps it is time to look out some vintage crockery and make your portion sizes more manageable!
  • You're eating too late at night, which increases your changes of gaining weight, as well as giving your digestive system a lot of hard work to do during the night!6
  • You're drinking too many calories. Whilst smoothies and fruit juices are associated with health benefits, they can also lead to weight gain if they are consumed in excess. As I always say, aim to drink 1.5 litres of still, plain water daily!

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4. Can I eat honey on a plant-based diet?

Honey is a somewhat controversial food in plant-based diets; as I mentioned above, everyone is individual and there is no right or wrong answer here. Some people who follow a plant-based diet will include honey in their diet, whereas those who follow a stricter plant-based diet or vegan diet may exclude it. It may be worth including honey in your diet since it has a few health benefits, including:

  • Soothing sore throats – honey is a thick substance that forms a barrier to soothe and protect your throat. Research has found that honey is effective in healing sore throats quickly.7 For more information on this topic, have a look at Dr Jen Tan's blog 'How does honey help a cough?'.
  • Helping to prevent gastric ulcers – Research has found that manuka honey may help to prevent gastric ulcers since it has been shown to inhibit the growth of helicobacter pylori.8

5. Can I eat dairy products on a plant-based diet?

Again, as I mentioned earlier, this choice is down to the individual. As I mentioned in my blog 'The diet everyone is talking about', some people following a plant-based diet may choose to include dairy, while others will not.

If you do not wish to consume dairy, or you are looking for some of the healthiest options, below I have included a handy table with a selection to choose from.

Dairy Food Healthier alternative
Full fat milk Oat milk, almond milk or kefir.
Red Leicester cheese Cottage cheese or feta cheese. These are both lighter alternatives.
Salted butter Unsalted butter or coconut butter.
Double cream

Use in small amounts or, if you're using it as part of a recipe, switch to a healthier alternative like reduced fat crème fraiche.

You can also use dairy-free versions such as Oatly crème fraiche and cream.

Flavoured yoghurts which tend to contain refined sugar

Natural plain yoghurt or Greek yoghurt. You can add fruit or seeds to this to make a lovely snack!

Again, dairy-free options are now widely available.

If you decide not to eat dairy whilst following a plant-based diet try to include some plant-based sources of calcium into your diet, such as dried apricots, almonds, dried figs, tahini, Brazil nuts, kale and broccoli, to help avoid a calcium deficiency.

So, what can you take away from this blog?

  • If you're thinking of starting a plant-based diet ease yourself into it slowly.
  • Plant-based diets can be beneficial for weight loss if accompanied by a healthy lifestyle.
  • You may wish to include honey and dairy into the plant-based diet, but this is entirely up to yourself.
  • If you are following a plant-based diet but decide to exclude dairy make sure that you are getting enough calcium from plant-based sources to avoid a calcium deficiency.

References

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-a-plant-based-diet-and-why-should-you-try-it-2018092614760
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466943/
  3. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/110/3/574/5498644
  4. https://www.nature.com/articles/ijo2017169
  5. http://www.actiononsalt.org.uk/salthealth/factsheets/obesity/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31339000
  7. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7934/f6b4b21c993a7ec37a36db36e63deeb66b45.pdf
  8. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2000/jul/02/drugs.life

What you said

We recently ran a poll to find out if you include honey and/or dairy in your plant-based diet. We've crunched the numbers and here are the results.

Results: Do you include honey and/or dairy in your plant-based diet?

43% of you said that you include both honey and dairy in your plant-based diets. This is great to see since both of these are associated with a few health benefits.

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