Plant-based eating for beginners

12 Dec 2023
by Tiluka Bhanderi

As we approach the new year, many clients may be looking to make a plant-based diet one of their resolutions. Tiluka Bhanderi looks at how you can help them maintain a healthy approach.

Contrary to popular belief, vegan and plant-based are two different things. Vegan omits all animal products from the diet and lifestyle whereas plant-based refers to a diet that omits animal products and focuses on plant foods.1

Plant-based diets have been increasing in popularity with more people choosing to adopt this diet for a variety of reasons including ethical, sustainability and health concerns. The health benefits associated with a plant-based diet include a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancers.2 It is important to make sure the diet is well planned to prevent deficiencies.

Vegan Eatwell Guide

The Vegan Eatwell Guide was produced by The Vegan Society and published in 2020 by Public Health England.3 It was developed as guidance to help ensure a plant-based diet is balanced and food groups have been replaced with alternative substitutes. It outlines five key food groups:

  1. Fruit and vegetables: fill at least half of your plate with a variety of fruit and vegetables – the more colours the better to ensure you’re receiving an array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
  2. Starchy foods: opt for wholegrain or high-fibre options of foods such as bread, rice and pasta whenever possible to maximise nutritional benefits. This food group provides energy, B vitamins, calcium and iron, and they are a good source of fibre
  3. Protein: protein is essential for growth and repair. Sources include beans, peas and lentils. Well-known and versatile substitutes include tofu, tempeh, seitan, edamame, quinoa and Quorn (mycoprotein). Plant-based whole food protein sources are often high in iron, zinc and fibre. Additionally, they often count towards one of your 5 a day
  4. Dairy alternatives: the range of plant-based cheeses, milks and yoghurts available in the UK is growing and, with more options available, it can be hard to know which ones to pick. Look for products fortified with calcium and vitamin D to help maintain bone health.
  5. Healthy fats: these are essential in a balanced diet. Sources include avocados, olives, nuts such as walnuts and seeds like flax and chia. Fats are a source of essential fatty acids and they help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

Common concerns and how to address them

Nutrient deficiencies

B12 – commonly known as a vegan’s deficiency, vitamin B12 cannot be obtained by plants alone. B12 is used to make red blood cells and it helps release energy from food. Sources of vitamin B12 include fortified dairy alternatives, nutritional yeast and fortified breakfast cereals.4 Although it is possible to meet vitamin B12 requirements with diet alone, some may find it easier to take a supplement, especially whilst still learning about adjusting their diet.

Calcium – calcium is needed to build and maintain strong bones. It can be obtained from fortified plant-based milks e.g., soya, almond, oat, dried fruits including figs and prunes, leafy greens such as kale and broccoli, nuts such as Brazil nuts and almonds, and seeds such as sesame.5 Vitamin D is needed to help the body absorb calcium. It is recommended that everyone in the UK takes a 10-microgram vitamin D supplement, especially during the winter months. Anti-nutrients such as oxalates and phytates found in foods such as spinach, seeds, legumes and nuts can affect the amount of calcium absorbed from whole-food plant-based sources as they bind to calcium and decrease its bioavailability, but soaking, sprouting or boiling foods has been found to help de-activate anti-nutrients.6 It is still important to include these foods in your diet and obtain calcium from a wide range of whole-food and fortified sources to prevent deficiencies.

Iron – iron helps the body make healthy red blood cells. Sources include leafy greens, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds. Consume vitamin C-rich foods such as berries, citrus fruits and bell peppers alongside iron-rich foods to increase absorption.7

Iodine – needed to make thyroid hormones, iodine is an essential nutrient for following a plant-based diet. The amount of iodine contained in plant foods is dependent on the soil quality it was grown in. Sources include seaweed and fortified alternatives. It may be beneficial for some to take a supplement.8

Abdominal discomfort such as bloating

This can be normal in the beginning when adjusting to a plant-based diet. Plant-based diets are higher in fibre, which can cause bloating as your body adjusts. Top tips to help manage bloating and gas include:

  • Drinking enough water: recommendations are to have 1.5-2L of fluid per day9 Building up slowly: increasing your fibre intake slowly allows your gut time to adjust
  • Eating mindfully: taking your time to eat reduces the chances of swallowing more air10
  • Being aware of cruciferous vegetables: vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower contain the sugar raffinose which contributes to bloating10
  • Soaking dried beans and lentils overnight before cooking.: this practice helps break down the oligosaccharides that causes bloating. Tinned beans are thought to cause less bloating but must still be drained and washed thoroughly.11

Plant-based diet essentials

  1. Find your why: think about your reasons for trying a plant-based diet and what you hope to get out of it. Whether it’s to reduce your meat consumption, lose weight or have improved energy levels, set a clear intention to help keep you on track.
  2. Monitor your ‘all or nothing’ mindset: perhaps try a few meat-free or dairy-free days in the week to experiment with a new way of eating and living.
  3. Plan your meals: set aside some time each week to search for new recipe ideas; create a weekly meal guide and meal prep to help keep you on track.
  4. Get creative in the kitchen: experiment with different flavours, spices and cooking methods and try to add a new fruit or vegetable to your meal at least once a day to increase your plant diversity.
  5. Rally up support: get a friend or family member involved to help keep you accountable.

It’s important to remember that adapting your diet requires patience, exploration, and a willingness to change. It’s about progress, not perfection. Enjoy the process of discovering new flavours and nourishing your body with wholesome plant-based foods. As you embark on this path, you’ll not only experience the benefits first-hand but also contribute to a healthier planet for generations to come.

Recommended resources

Free App: VeGuide

The Vegan Society has developed an app available on Android and iOS devices. Tailored to a UK audience, it contains useful videos, guides and recipes to help with adapting your diet.12

Plant-based Health Professionals UK

Plant-based Health Professionals UK is dedicated to increase education around whole-food plant-based nutrition. Their website contains free resources and factsheets, and they provide a membership option for healthcare professionals to join with benefits including access to CPD-accredited webinars, online and in-person socials and events, regular journal and book clubs, and a listing in their health professional directory.13


  1. British Nutrition Foundation. Plant based diets. Accessed on: 18th May 2023
  2. British Dietetic Association. Vegetarian and Vegan Fact Sheet. Accessed on: 18th May 2023
  3. Vegan Society. Eatwell guide. Accessed 18th May 2023
  4. Vegan Society. Vitamin B12. Accessed on: 18th May 2023
  5. Vegan Society. Calcium. Accessed on: 18th May 2023
  6. Harvard T.H. Chan. Antinutrients. Accessed on: 18th May 2023
  7. British Dietetic Association (BDA). Iron Deficiency. Accessed on: 20th May 2023
  8. Vegan Society. Iodine, Accessed on: 20th May 2023
  9. British Dietetic Association (BDA). Importance of Hydration. Accessed on 20th May 2023
  10. Up To Date. Patient education: Gas and bloating (Beyond the Basics) 19th May 2023
  11. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. Soaking and cooking modify the alpha-galacto-oligosaccharide and dietary fibre content in five Mediterranean legumes. Accessed on: 19th May 2023
  12. Vegan Society. VeGuide. Accessed on 1st June 2023
  13. Plant-based Health Professionals. Accessed on: 1st June 2023