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.
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:
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
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:
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.
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