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The plant-based diet: fact vs fiction

From driving environmental change, to causing a significant reduction in cardiovascular diseases, and attributing to a more ethical lifestyle, there are a lot of arguments out there in favour of a plant-based diet.

And with The Vegan Society reporting over 600,000 vegans in the UK, a 400% rise since 2014, it’s clear more and more individuals are jumping on board. But do you know the truth about a plant-based diet, or are you getting lost in an overload of information? We’ve explored the truth to help you better understand the plant-based diet. 

Will a plant-based diet automatically make me healthier?

While the vegan diet generally encourages an increase in fresh fruit and vegetables, it's crucial to remember that a plant-based diet can also be unhealthy for those not making the right choices. The British Heart Foundation reminds us that "too much saturated fat, sugar and salt from any source can harm your health". With more and more plant-based snacks becoming available, it's up to you as the consumer to read food labels and understand what you're actually eating and whether it's genuinely good for you, or just a vegan version of junk food.

What does cutting out animal products do to the body?

A study from the Imperial College London and BBC found that the by eating 200g of fresh fruit and veg (equivalent to three daily portions) could significantly reduce health risks. By doing so, they found that the risk of cardiovascular disease could be reduced by 13%, a reduction risk of 4% for cancers, and a huge 15% risk decrease for premature deaths.

On the argument for a reduction in cardiovascular diseases, David Rogerson of Sheffield Hallam University has spent over a decade studying the relation between the diet and the body, and suggests that veganism could help reduce obesity and lower cholesterol, both chronic illnesses that, according to The Guardian, cost the UK around £9bn a year.

Other sources, such as the World Cancer Research Fund, report that fish or lean poultry don't necessary lead to an increased cancer risk, and instead suggest a balanced diet is the way to go, filled with plenty of wholegrains, pulses, fruit and vegetables, and restricting red meat consumption to three portions per week (that's a cooked weight of 350-500g). 

Will I still get all my nutrients by restricting my food groups?

It all depends on what you're eating. Like any lifestyle, it's all about balance. You need to make sure you are eating five portions of fruit and vegetables every single day, supported by beans, pulses, or other proteins. According to the NHS nutritional guide, "with good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegetarian and vegan diet you can get all the nutrients your body needs to be healthy without the need for supplements."

Where vegans tend to struggle is getting enough B12, which is found predominately in fish, meat, dairy and eggs. Many also find themselves lacking in iron, so pile your plate with leafy greens like kale and spinach to combat this. Lentils, cannellini beans, potatoes, tofu, and hemp seeds are all rich in iron. 

If starting out on a plant-based diet, it could be useful to consult a doctor or nutritionist and make sure you know exactly what you need to do to avoid any nutrition deficiencies. Vitamin supplements can be helpful for people of all diets and lifestyles if you find that you are lacking in a department, despite careful diet planning. 

What impact does it have on the environment?

A report from the World Resources Institute advises that shifting from a standard, animal-based diet is one of the best places to start if you want to reduce your impact on the environment. They explain that ‘even changing just 30% of your food from animal products to plant-based foods would be effective’.

107 scientists for the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that we can feed more humans using less land just by cutting down on our meat consumption. The gases that are used as part of livestock farming contribute majorly to climate change - about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and forestry combined. Looking at water usage, the Water Footprint Network states it takes a huge 1,000 gallons of water to produce one gallon milk. And on top of this, the 300+ million tons of manure that go back into the environment have been linked to ammonia production, which contributes to smog, alga blooms, and can even kill fish in our oceans. 

Whatever you decide, we at Healthy Nibbles are of a firm belief that a healthy lifestyle is all about a balanced and nutritional diet, daily exercise, and a positive mental health mindset. Everyone is different, and it’s crucial you use your own personal motivations to implement a sustainable lifestyle, not just for a week or a month, but as a permanent solution.

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