How to Start a Plant-Based Diet

Plant-based diets are becoming ever more popular thanks to increasing awareness of the impact of meat, fish and dairy-heavy diets on the environment and our health. However, ‘plant-based’ as a term, while many think just means ‘vegan’ is, in reality, plant-based diets exist as more of a spectrum.

What is a plant-based diet?

Although often used interchangeably, ‘plant-based’ and ‘vegan’ do not necessarily mean the same thing. 

A vegan diet or lifestyle omits all animal products. The omitted items include obvious components, such as meat, fish, dairy and eggs, but also excludes everyday goods and items such as leather and cosmetics that been tested on animals.

A plant-based diet entails the predominant consumption of plants and plant products (e.g. tofu or tempeh) but does not (necessarily) completely omit animal products. It’s more of a broad term to cover a typical or preferred way of eating as opposed to a lifestyle change with a rigid structure.

Furthermore, a vegan diet is not necessarily plant-based, despite plants being a vegan food source. Some vegans thrive off of ‘accidentally’ vegan foods such as Oreo’s, crisps, Lotus Biscoff and pasta, and while all delicious, none of these are technically plant-based, but they are vegan.

Why Choose Plant-Based?

Environmental Impacts:

So far it has been found that diets rich in animal products (meats, dairy and eggs), emit 2.5 times more greenhouse gases (GHG) than vegan diets do (Lacour et al., 2018).

The Mediterranean diet is considered a more plant-based approach to eating meat, as the diet’s basis consists of freshly caught fish and poultry and fresh vegetables, yet it is still much higher in emissions than vegan diets – an average of 7 kgCO2e more, per capita, per week (Catalunya, 2017). This equates to 364 kgCO2e more across the span of a year for a diet that generally excludes beef and dairy – foods sourced from cows (a ruminant species) that emit more nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and methane than their monogastric counterparts (Aleksandrowicz et al., 2016; Lacour et al., 2018).

UK food production alone is responsible for 18-30% of global GHG emissions, so it is no surprise that as a nation, there is an exponentially increasing pressure to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle – 61% of global GHG emission is derived from bovines (Lacour et al., 2018), hence the focus being on reducing red meat consumption, in particular.

Health Reasons:

In addition to the pressure to live more sustainably, there is also pressure from a health perspective to minimise one’s risk of metabolic syndrome (the combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity).

Meta-analyses have found that vegetarian diets exhibit a significant reduction in risk of incidence of ischaemic heart disease (reduced by 25%) (Dinu et al., 2017; Satija and Hu, 2018) and non-specific cancers (reduction of 8%), and vegan diets a reduction of 15% for cancers (Dinu et al., 2017). 

Plant-based diets are also associated with a plethora of other health benefits, including but not limited to: reduced risks of type 2 diabetes mellitus and ischaemic heart disease, a reduction in total cholesterol, LDL- cholesterol and glucose levels, and an overall reduction in body mass index (BMI) (Acosta et al., 2016; Wendorf, 2016; Ho, Yu and Lee, 2017; Morgan-Bathke and Jensen, 2019).

Better yet, those that include soy and soy products in their diet have an added bonus in that soy actively works to reduce cholesterol – even in the presence of saturated fats. You can read more about the benefits of soy in our post here.

Ethics:

Whilst the health and environmental benefits of plant-based diets cannot be ignored, the primary motivation for many following said diets (particularly vegan diets) is the moral/ethical standpoint (BBC, 2018).

This is the belief that animals should have rights, just as humans do (Radnitz, Beezhold and Dimatteo, 2015), and that just because humans have the means of accessing meats and animal products, and preparing them in a way that is fit for human consumption, it does not mean that it is ethically viable to do so (Çiçekoğlu and Tunçay, 2017).

So. You’ve decided to go plant-based. What happens next?

Determine your motivation

What is your reasoning behind transitioning to a more plant-based or vegan diet?

Working this out will help you determine the types of foods that will make the change most enjoyable for you.

For example, if you enjoy meat, but are concerned about the impact meat has on the environment or your health, including meat alternatives (such as veggie sausages or burgers) in your diet is a great option. This allows you to make the change you want to, but still include similar enough foods to what you were eating previously to prevent you feeling restricted.

Top tip: be open-minded when trying these products, particularly at the start. They likely won’t taste exactly like their meaty counterparts, but they’re still delicious, and a great substitute to help you along the way!

On the other hand, if you are opting for a plant-based diet because you do not like the taste or texture of meat/fish, then including meat substitutes in your diet will likely reduce your enjoyment, and therefore also your willingness to continue with the diet. If this resonates more strongly with you, you’ll likely find more enjoyment in (*cough* FFF-style *cough*) plant-based meals, which include a wide range of vegetables, grains and plant-based proteins such as tofu, beans and legumes.

If you are gradually making the transition to a vegan diet, here are a surprising number of ‘accidentally vegan’ items that might make the transition that little bit easier! 

Make it enjoyable

As much as veggies and vegans get ridiculed for eating “rabbit food” (or maybe, my friends are just d***s), being plant-based can be extremely enjoyable, so long as you give what you’re eating a semblance of thought. 

Start by trying out meat-free options when eating out. Veggie and vegan burgers, for example, have come a long, long way since the days of portobello mushrooms and three-bean “patties”. Meat-free actually tastes GOOD now, thanks to the need to match the demand for them.

Make sure to experiment – without experimenting, you’ll become bored of plant-based life very quickly, as you’ll constantly be eating the same meals. Similarly, ensure you’re remaining open-minded and patient! You have to be willing to try new options and believe that you’ll find the right fit for you in due course. 

Top tips

FFF’s longest-reigning vegan of 4.5 years, and Client Success Manager, Caroline, quit animal products cold-turkey (pardon the pun) in pursuit of a vegan lifestyle, and wants to share her top tips:

  1. Stock your cupboards with typical plant-based ingredients, such as nutritional yeast (for a vegan B12 boost), vegetable stock and flaxseed. These are common ingredients in plant-based cooking, and having them easily accessible will make the transition easier.
  1. Get a plant-based cookbook. Thinking of plant-based recipes yourself can be difficult if you’re used to cooking with meat and fish. Here is a list of great plant-based cookbooks for beginners. We even have some vegan FFF recipes here too.
  1. Know your B12 and protein. Everyone will ask where you’re getting it from, so jump the gun and know the ins and outs before 21 Questions starts.
  1. Don’t tell anyone to start with (unless you really have to). While you’re finding your feet in a new plant-based world, try to avoid mentioning your recent decision. Although plant-based diets are more socially accepted now, they are often still met with criticism and snide comments, which can leave you feeling deterred and unmotivated.
  1. Don’t expect vegan cheese to be good. It’s just not there yet. But give it time! Foods like pizza can be delicious without it anyway.

Did you know – all six in-house FFF nutritionists consider themselves to be predominantly plant-based or ‘flexi’? 

So, if you’re looking for a way to kickstart a plant-based diet, feel free to chat to us about it by booking in a call here. If you want to try our delicious new plant-based summer menu out, you can get £50 off a veggie, vegan or flexi 5-day trial with the code PLANTPOWER50.

Meghan Foulsham
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Published by Meghan Foulsham

Meghan's fascination with metabolism and the effect of diet on the body covered in her BSc Biochemistry, paired with being a passionate mental health advocate, led her to a Master's degree in Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition. Using this, Meghan works with clients to help them reach their goals in the most sustainable way, without sacrificing or risking their mental health.

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