How Healthy Are Plant-Based Diets?

Plant-based diets increase in popularity each year. In fact, Australia is currently the third fastest growing vegan market in the world1. In addition to this, the number of Australian’s who eat all or mostly vegetarian has risen from 1.7 million to 2.1 million in just four short years2.

But what exactly is a plant-based diet? And is it healthier than an omnivorous diet?

Types of plant-based diets

The true definition of plant-based diets is often disputed. Some feel that this refers to a diet completely free of animal products. Others refer to it as a dietary pattern where the majority of food comes from plant-based sources, however small amounts of animal products may still be eaten.Common forms of plant-based diets include

Vegan

Vegans avoid all animal products such as milk, eggs, poultry, seafood, meat and honey.

Lacto-ovo Vegetarian

Lacto-ovo vegetarians avoid meat, poultry and fish but do consume eggs and dairy products.

Lacto Vegetarian

Lacto-vegetarians avoid meat, poultry, fish and eggs but do consume dairy products.

Ovo Vegetarian

Ovo-vegetarians eat no meat, poultry or dairy but do eat eggs.

Pescetarian

Pescetarians eat animal products such as dairy, fish and eggs but avoid meat and poultry.

Why do people decide to follow a plant-based diet?

There are many reasons as to why a person may adopt a plant-based diet. The most common of these include: 

Health

Research shows that this type of eating pattern may reduce the risk of many chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes3.

Ethical

Many people are concerned about the ethics behind consuming meat and other animal products.

Environmental

Animal agriculture often leads to land clearing and the production of large amounts of methane gas. This process places a large impact on the health of the earth4.

Affordability

Legumes, nuts, seeds and grains are often cheaper protein sources than meat and poultry.

Religion

Religions such as Buddhism or Seventh Day Adventists promote following a vegetarian diet as part of their practice.

Planning a balanced plant-based diet

When swapping to a plant-based diet, it is essential to ensure you are eating an adequate amount of each of the core food groups daily5. These include…

Fruit

Such as strawberries, oranges, pineapple and watermelon.

Vegetables

Including peas, beans, capsicum, tomato and spinach.

Protein rich foods

Instead of meat, chicken and eggs, plant-based eaters such use proteins such as tofu, tempeh, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, nuts and seeds. Nuzest Clean Lean Protein can also be a great addition to smoothies or oats to help boost up your daily protein intake.

Wholegrains

Such as wholegrain pasta, wraps, bread, quinoa and brown rice.

Dairy and dairy alternatives

Instead of cows-milk dairy products, plant-based eaters may choose calcium-fortified plant milks such as soy, oat or almond milks and yoghurts. Asian greens, broccoli, tahini and tofu also provide a good source of calcium.

Key nutrients to consider on a plant-based diet

Animal products contain many essential vitamins and minerals. To prevent nutritional deficiencies when removing these, it is important to replace these foods with the appropriate alternatives.

1. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is created by a type of bacteria and is naturally found in foods such as meat, milk and eggs6. It is essential for normal functioning of the brain and nervous system6. Vitamin B12 plays roles in the creation of red blood cells, producing DNA and forming fatty acids in myelin, the coating around our nerves6.

Unfortunately, Vitamin B12 is not naturally found in any plant-based foods. Because of this, it is important that people following a completely plant-based diet (ie. consume no animal products) consider fortified foods or supplements.

Foods richest in vitamin B12 include eggs, vitamin B12-fortified plant-milks, cow’s milk, yoghurt and cheese and nutritional yeast.

2. Zinc

Zinc is an important mineral involved in wound healing, skin health, the creation of DNA and metabolism7. The absorption of zinc by the body from plant-based foods is lower than the zinc found in animal-based foods. This is due to many zinc-rich foods containing phytates, a compound that binds to zinc and stops its absorption8,9.

To overcome this, it is beneficial for plant-based eaters to soak their beans, grains and seeds in water for several hours before cooking. This helps to improve zinc absorption. Nuzest Clean Lean Protein is water isolated for this very reason, thus is free of lectins and low in phytates resulting in improved nutrient absorption. One serve of Nuzest Clean Lean Protein provides 3mg zinc.

Foods rich in zinc include tofu, tempeh, sundried tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, almonds and brazil nuts.

3. Calcium

Calcium is well known to be the essential nutrient in dairy. It plays roles in healthy nerve and muscle function and maintains the strength of bones and teeth10.When there is not enough calcium available through the diet, the body breaks down the calcium stored in the bones to supply the amount required in the blood10.Overtime this can weaken the bones and lead to an increased risk of osteoporosis.

Foods richest in calcium include dairy-based yoghurt, milk and cheese, calcium-fortified plant-milks, tahini, Asian greens and hard tofu. Nuzest Good Green Stuff also contains a high 165mg of calcium – that’s the same as half a cup of milk!

4. Iron

Iron is a mineral that is needed for red blood cells to bring oxygen to all parts of the body11. The oxygen is then used to create energy. Low levels of iron can result in anaemia, which comes with symptoms such as fatigue, a fast heartbeat and shortness of breath11.

Like zinc, iron-rich plant foods are often higher in phytates which can reduce the absorption of iron from foods. As a result, vegetarian women and men often have lower iron stores than people who eat meat.

To maximise iron absorption, it is important to:

  • Consume iron-rich plant-foods such as spinach, legumes, almonds, dried apricots and cashews.
  • Include vitamin C rich foods such as oranges and kiwi fruit to boost iron absorption.
  • Keep tea and coffee 1 hour away from meals as these can reduce iron absorption.
  • Only use calcium-supplements between meals as these can also affect iron absorption.

Nuzest Clean Lean Protein is made from European Golden Peas, making it a natural source of iron which is extremely low in phytates!

The Bottom Line

There are many forms of a plant-based diets that can be followed. To confer the most health benefits, it is important to ensure that the diet is predominantly from whole, unprocessed plant foods and reduces or limits animal products. Due to plant-based diets having an increased risk of nutritional deficiencies, it is important to plan your diet appropriately. It may also be worthwhile to consider boosting your diet with Nuzest Good Green Stuff which is rich in the three essential minerals zinc, calcium and vitamin B12!

For more plant-based food swaps click here!

Kiah Paetz

Disclaimer: The information provided on Nuzest is for educational and informational purposes only. The information provided on this site is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional advice or care. Please speak to your qualified healthcare professional in the event that something you have read here raises questions or concerns regarding your health.