Scientists provides plenty of evidence suggesting that plant based diet can be long term and sustainable healthy choice. Science aside, what comes to your mind when you hear “plant based diet”? Too restrictive, complicated, expensive, boring…? Let’s take a look at the most common misconceptions I came across.
I’m hungry when I don’t have meat!
We know that whole plant based diet is very beneficial for your health, but can it be satisfying? Absolutely yes and it’s mainly due to fibre which most population is not getting enough off! Fibre is found in plants and to put it simply it is the “tough stuff ” that holds the plant together. Our body does not digest fibre well which helps slowing down the process of emptying our stomach making us feel fuller for longer. It also slows down release of glucose helping manage undesirable blood sugar spikes and related mood swings and cravings.
Choosing whole foods as much as possible will allow you to not only feel satisfied but also will deliver plenty of nutrients. Comparing to diet high in animal products, whole plant foods are lower in calories so you might consider increasing your portion size ! Imagine a plate filled with courgette, cucumber, aubergine, onion, pepper, tomato, carrots, broccoli, a handful of mushrooms. Does it look like a lot of food? Sure it does, but that would be only around 300 calories! Your meal can not be complete without starches, pulses, nuts and seeds that provide the energy and calories to get you through the day.
I won’t get enough protein
When we hear the word “protein” what often comes to mind is eggs, fish, chicken and juicy steak. Let’s clarify, that all initial protein come from plants. By eating animal tissue you consume the re-cycled plant protein they consumed. You can also obtain all essential amino acids from plants which makes them excellent and far more beneficial to human physiology source of protein. Beans, grains, lentils, tofu, vegetables are all packed with them and in addition provide great source of fiber! Most people following typical Eastern diet in fact over consume proteins so instead of worrying about where to get the protein from, just focus on eating variety!
Plant base diet is expensive
As in every area of life you have some choices to make. There is for sure plenty of trendy and very well marketed “super foods”, wonder powders and super grains that come with a high price tag. There is equally large choice of “replacement” products such us mock meat, plant steaks and vegan cheese… Although plant based, those are often heavily processed and heavily priced! Honestly not the best for your health or your pocket. Embrace simple ingredients! Majority of your plant diet should be based on very affordable, simple produce such us grains, pulses and legumes as well as fruit and vegetables.
Grains and pulses are best bought dry. Not only they are cheaper but also have a very long self life so you are minimizing your potential waste and making your budget go further. For convenience, when I need to rustle up a quick meal I keep couple of tins of beans, lentils, chickpeas in my larder. They are already cooked and can be used straight away and they still are very affordable.
When it comes to fruit and veg opt for seasonal. It might not be affordable or possible to buy in small, local shops but signing up for fruit and veg delivery box might be a good option, and often not more expensive. Fancy anything that is out of season? It’s worth visiting the frozen aisle. Frozen foods are affordable and not at all less nutritious!
It’s difficult to work out balanced meals
Changing a diet can make you feel a bit lost and overwhelmed. Keeping a good balance when it comes to composition of your meals can be a real worry. How much protein, carbohydrates or fats should you eat for optimum health? Getting involved in an extensive research or calculating each of your meals nutritional value is just unrealistic. Life is too short! The good news is that non of this is needed!
The key to eating well is filling your plate with simple, unprocessed foods of all types such as grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables as well as good sources of oily foods, nuts and seeds. Make sure you eat variety from each category and keep your plate full of colour.
NHS website provides really useful visual Eatwell Guide that will help you understand your plate composition. If you are choosing to opt out from eating fish or meat completely, replace it with other sources of protein such us beans, lentils or tofu. Swap diary for plant based alternatives. Some new produce might take some time getting used to when it comes to taste or texture but it is important to keep trying and give yourself a chance to explore new flavours. At the same time compose majority of your diet with produce you enjoy and find easy to cook with as you want your diet to be sustainable.
While you do not have to give up your animal products all together but just prioritize plants, you might find yourself stuck when facing meat free days. What to have on your sandwich when you can’t have cheese, ham or bacon? What about burgers, pizza and what will you put on your BBQ? Switching to a plant based diet might make you realize how much you have been relying on chicken, lamb, fish, beef, pork as a centre of your meals. At first, it might even feel that your meal is incomplete without meat or seafood. While this is quite normal to feel this way at first, nutritionally you can create fully valuable (I would risk saying more valuable!) meals without animal products. The difficult part is to switch your thinking and open your mind.
By stepping away from your “safe” meaty options you are giving yourself the best opportunity to prioritize those glorious plants that no longer have to be just the side dish. How can exploring variety and diversity be limiting? In contrast, it’s exciting, it makes food interesting and helps you live healthier life. Forget about the idea of healthy food being boring!
Check my guide on “How to start eating plant based diet” for more tips to set you to a good start.