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Plant-based diet: What it all means and how it can boost your health
If you’re interested in health and nutrition, you’ve probably noticed the phrase ‘plant-based diet’ being bandied about recently.
But what does it actually mean? Is it a fridge full of green smoothie ingredients? Is animal protein (*cue juicy ribeye dinner fantasy*) completely out of the question?
We spoke to celebrity nutritionist and chef, Zoe Bingley-Pullin, who recently launched a plant-based menu at Australian café Jamaica Blue, to find out the answers to these questions and more…
What exactly is a plant-based diet?
Contrary to popular belief, a plant-based diet needn’t solely consist of plant-based foods. As Zoe explains, it should involve “a high intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts/seeds and tofu, and a reduced or limited intake of animal-based foods, including eggs, dairy and meat.” Turns out, you can still have some pork chops every now and then. But the emphasis is on the plant-based alternatives, which Zoe says are “typically lower in trans and saturated fats, as compared to animal-based foods.”
How can a plant-based diet benefit my health?
Plant-based foods are highly nutritious – think vitamins, minerals and antioxidant compounds, which are “all beneficial for anti-ageing, and reducing the risk of chronic disease,” says Zoe. The
health benefits linked to plant-based diets extend to “cardiovascular benefits, better digestive health, weight management and reduced risk for type 2 diabetes,” says Zoe. The fact is, even though plant-based diets are trendy right now, plant-based foods have been prescribed for years for various health conditions, “especially those involving inflammation,” continues Zoe.
How much meat can I have on a plant-based diet?
As Zoe explains, “A plant-based diet doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach.” The nutritionist recommends the ‘flexitarian’ way of eating as “a popular way to enjoy the benefits of a plant-based diet, while also incorporating some animal products when you feel like them.” The exact ratio of animal-based to plant-based foods, and when and how much you have them is fairly flexible: “Some people choose to have meat daily and simply cut down on portion size, while others choose to have it weekly,” says Zoe. At the end of the day, it’s “a personal preference and about what makes you feel best.”
But the amount of animal-based products isn’t the only consideration. You will also need to consider the quality of it. Zoe recommends “good quality eggs, small white fish, fatty fish, organic chicken/turkey and grass fed/finished red meat.” Granted, some of these foods can be expensive, but remember, you’re having less of them (the focus is on more affordable fruits, vegetables and legumes).
Will a plant-based diet help me lose weight?
If you’re looking to lose some weight, a plant-based diet may be beneficial. As Zoe explains, this is because “it involves eating more whole foods and less processed foods”, as well as “a reduced intake of refined sugar and poor-quality fats” – both of which are linked to weight gain.
As well as being rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, Zoe says “plant-based foods are also lower in fat” than non plant-based foods, which means they contain less kilojoules/calories. Finally, plant-based foods may also help prevent you overeating, as they generally have a high fibre content (which will help you feel full for longer!).
Is a plant-based diet hard to follow?
The perks of a plant-based diet extend beyond the aforementioned health benefits. As Zoe explains, “Plant-based foods are quick to prepare and very versatile” (just look at these healthy summer salad recipes). The bulk of plant-based foods and ingredients are also more affordable than many non plant-based foods. Finally, a plant-based diet is also better for the environment and involves less packaging. For maximum environmental benefits, Zoe recommends “growing your own plant-based foods and healthy herbs, or picking them up at your local farmers market.”
Do you follow a plant-based diet, or are you a self-confessed carnivore? What’s your favourite plant-based food?