Plant Based Diets

24th January 2018

Over the last 10 years the number of vegans in the UK has increased by more than 350%.  ‘Veganuary’ is now a thing. So is Meat Free Monday. The clean eating craze seems to be have been replaced with the idea of at least plant based eating, if not full blown veganism.

Tesco have just confirmed the mainstream-ness of plant-based eating with a ‘Wicked Kitchen’ range comprised solely of vegan foods. They have launched 20 SKUS so far – 11 ready meals and 9 food to go items. They have employed Derek Sarno (former Whole Foods CEO) to run this range for them.

They follow Pizza Express and Pizza Hut in recognising the demand for vegan foods in supermarkets and restaurants – they started offering vegan friendly cheese last year, Pret A Manger introduced vegan pots and Ocado has a vegan range of over 90 SKUS. Zizzi have now launched an avocado base pizza in order to try and help people trying ‘Veganuary’ be able to eat out.

In this wave of veganism some nutritionists are warning people to try and avoid vegan junk food substitutes such as sweets and burgers. These are not much healthier than their animal product containing equivalents and will see people skipping some of the benefits of a vegan lifestyle. The benefits of a vegan lifestyle come from eating so many plants.

Eating a plant-based diet is linked to lower risk of obesity and many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, inflammation and cancer. Interventional studies of plant-based diets have shown, for example, 90 percent reductions in angina attacks within just a few weeks. Plant-based diet intervention groups report better diet satisfaction than the control groups, improved digestion, energy levels and sleep quality. They also see improvement in their physical functioning, general health, vitality, and mental health.

The traditional Japanese diet and the Mediterranean diet provide us with clear precedents on the life extending possibilities associated with eating lots of leafy vegetables and fruits. Plants contain lots of polyphenols such as flavenols found in broccoli and fruit and flavones found in parsley and celery and these are all rich in antioxidants. Extra virgin olive oil contains oleocanthal with has similar anti-inflammatory properties to certain NSAID drugs. Phytonutrients called nitrates have been found to benefit heart health and these are found in lots of vegetables – rocket in particular has good nitrate levels!

Plant based eating is normally interpreted as not as restrictive a lifestyle as veganism which completely eliminates all animal products. Flexitarianism is also a new buzz word for people describing themselves as ‘semi vegetarian’ who want to reduce their consumption of red meat and up their consumption of plants without completely eliminating anything from their diets.

Whilst veganism is more of a complete lifestyle choice adopting plant-based eating in one form or another could benefit our health and the planet. It is definitely a more rounded and achievable aim than the dreaded ‘clean eating’ diet.