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Nov 12, 2021 Diet & Nutrition Movement & Exercise Recipes Wellness Tips Hayley Derwent 3,703 views

November is World Vegan Month, which encourages people to give vegan eating and lifestyles a go. Have you ever considered going vegan or vegetarian, or simply just thought about reducing your meat intake? Perhaps you do already follow a plant-based diet and are already reaping the benefits; and there are many benefits to plant-based diets both to your health and to the environment! There are different types of plant-based diets:

  • Semi-vegetarian / Flexitarian – eats mostly plant-based foods with animal products consumed in moderation.
  • Reductetarian – eats mostly plant-based foods with mindful and gradual reduction of consumption of animal products.
  • Pescetarian – Eats fish and seafood, but no land-based animal flesh.
  • Vegetarian / Lacto (-Ovo-) Vegetarian – Eats no flesh foods but consumes dairy products (+/- eggs).
  • Vegan – Eats no foods of animal or insect origin. No flesh foods, dairy products, eggs, honey and animal-derived ingredients (e, lactose, gelatine, cochineal).
  • Ostrovegan – Eats no animal products except for bivalves (eg oysters, mussels, clams).
  • Beegan – eats no animal products except for honey and other bee-derived products.
  • Raw vegan – etas mostly or only plants that have not been heated above 48°
  • Fruitarian – Eats only fruits, and possibly nuts and seeds.
  • Whole food plant-based – Eats mostly or only plant foods in their whole or minimally processed form.
  • Low Carb / Keto Vegan- eats mostly or all high fat, low carbohydrate plant foods and ingredients.

There are also some religions that follow plant-based diets. These include:

  • Hinduism – beef is prohibited; vegetarianism is desirable.
  • Jainsim – vegetarian diet, avoiding produce grown under the ground (eg potatoes, garlic).
  • Buddhism – Refrain from meat; vegetarianism is desirable.
  • Rastafarianism – Vegetarian diets only with salts, preservatives and condiments discouraged.
  • Seventh-day Adventists – Pork is prohibited; vegetarianism is encouraged but not enforced.

 

Health Benefits

Turning to a plant-based diet can be a valuable lifestyle change in terms of your health. In a study of approximately 65000 people over an 8-year period (1), those on a vegetarian diet had lower:

  • BMI
  • Prevalence of obesity and weight gain over time
  • Non-HDL cholesterol
  • Systolic blood pressure
  • Hypertension
  • Risk of ischemic heart disease
  • Risk of cancers

Two studies conducted by Harvard Medical School (2,3) found that a higher intake of healthier plant foods is associated with lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, whilst a plant-based diet with less healthy plant foods is associated with higher risk of heart disease.

A low-fat plant-based diet, when compared to control groups (those following a standard diet), has shown higher reductions in:

  • Weight
  • Blood glucose levels
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Pain
  • Improved cardiovascular risk factors
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Improved quality of life and workplace productivity

 

Environmental benefits

We all know about the environmental changes that have been happening in recent years – global warming, carbon (CO2) emissions, green house gas emissions. How does plant-based eating affect our environment? Food and agriculture impacts our environment in the following areas:

  1. Land use – Globally, agriculture uses 50% of habitual land. In fact, Australia has one of the highest rates of land clearing in the world. Beef production is a leading cause of deforestation in Australia and is responsible for 73% of all deforestation and land clearing in Queensland. (3)
  2. Water use – Agriculture is responsible for 70% of freshwater use world-wide. (4)
  3. Water pollution – Agriculture contributes 78% of global freshwater and ocean pollution. (4)
  4. Biodiversity – 94% of the world’s animals are livestock and humans (of which, 36% are humans and 60% are livestock). Only 6% of the world’s animals are wild. (4)
  5. Greenhouse gases – Food is responsible for 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions. (4)

How can we reduce these figures?

  • A global dietary shift to a completely animal-free diet would reduce food-related GHGs by ~49% and farmland by ~76%.
  • Just eliminating beef (globally) would still reduce food GHGs by 33%.
  • A dietary shift away from all animal products in the US, where per capita meat consumption is thrice the world average, could reduce food emissions 61-73%.

The numbers above are scary and somewhat confronting. It’s also unlikely that these changes will happen globally, so what can you do?

 

How to do it

Try reducing the amount of animal products you eat:

  • Implement “meat-free Mondays” into your week
  • Make simple swaps – swap out minced meat for lentils or beans; swap cow’s milk to a dairy free alternative such as almond, soy or oat milk

Check out our article for more tips on how to increase your veggie intake.

 

Plant Based Meat Alternatives

With the movement toward plant-based diets becoming more popular, so too are plant-based meat alternatives. A question that I get asked a lot are these good to eat? My short answer is usually the same as any other processed food – in moderation. Here’s the long answer…

Plant based meat alternatives are a processed food that is produced in a factory. They usually have a large number of ingredients, including saturated fats, sodium, preservatives and additives. My advice is generally to stick to a whole-foods diet and aim to eat mostly food that comes from a farm (in the case of a plant-based diet, we’re talking vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds and legumes) and try to reduce the amount of food that comes from a factory.

 

Getting the Right Nutrients

There are fears that certain nutrients are lacking in a plant-based diet. And the most common one that is asked about is calcium. It is important to include a wide variety of food in any kind of diet to ensure that you are getting a wide range of nutrients, and a plant-based diet is no exception.

The nutrients that are most commonly asked about and their plant-based sources are:

  • Protein
    • legumes,
    • tofu,
    • nuts and seeds.
  • Calcium
    • leafy green vegetables (eg bok choy, kale, broccoli),
    • tofu & tempeh,
    • seaweeds,
    • legumes,
    • chia seeds,
    • almonds,
    • blackstrap molasses,
    • fortified products (eg soy milk).
  • Iron
    • soy beans, tofu & tempeh,
    • leafy green vegetables,
    • nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin seeds and cashews),
    • potatoes,
    • legumes (lentils, beans, peas),
    • whole grains.
  • Vitamin B12 is the only nutrient that cannot be obtained adequately form a strict plant-based diet. If you are following a strict plant-based diet and are concerned about your vitamin B12 status, get in touch with one of our naturopaths or nutritionists to discuss supplementation.

 

Conclusion

The different types of plant-based diets can lead to improvements to our health and environment. If you are considering turning to a plant-based diet, or simply wanting to introduce more met-free meals into your life, it is important to make sure that you are including a wide variety of food sources to ensure your nutrient needs are being met. Reach out to our naturopathic & nutritionist team for more advice.

 

References:

  1. Epic-Oxford
  2. Satija A et al, 2017, ‘Healthful and Unhealthful plant-based diets and the risk of coronary heart disease in US adults’, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 70(4): 411-422, viewed on 8 October 2021 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28728684/
  3. Reside A et al, 2017, ‘Ecological consequences of land clearing and policy reform in Queensland’, Pacific Conservation Biology, 23(3), viewed on 8 October 2021 https://www.publish.csiro.au/pc/pc17001
  4. Ritchie H & Roser M, 2020, ‘Environmental impacts of food production’, Publish online at OurWorldInData.org, viewed on 8 October 2021, https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food#licence

About The Author - Hayley Derwent

Hayley is a holistic nutritionist whose vision is to inspire and educate patients about food and lifestyle to positively enhance their health and wellbeing. She provides a safe and caring environment by listening, teaching and supporting people and working in partnership with them to strive towards good health and happiness.

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