There is no doubt that we are seeing a shift towards more people adopting a plant-based diet. The evidence is clear, eating a diet that is rich in plant-based foods is both beneficial for our health and environmental sustainability.
With this being said, there are a number of factors to consider before transitioning to a plant-based diet. The most important of these is maintaining the nutritional adequacy of one’s diets, as excluding animal-based foods from the diet increases a person’s risk of nutritional deficiency. Second to this is finding plant-based alternatives that match up in flavour and taste!
Nutritionist-in-training, Eleanor Good, shares some easy food swaps to consider for those wishing to transition to a plant-based diet.
1. Cow’s milk
Swap for: fortified plant-based milks
There have never been more plant-based milk alternatives available. Oat, soy, almond, rice, cashew, macadamia, pea…you name it, there is probably a milk made out of it! Cow’s milk is a rich source of calcium which is essential for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. Because most plant-based milks are made predominantly from water, it is important to swap to a milk alternate that has been fortified with calcium (this means that calcium has been added to the milk). If not, it is important to find your calcium from other food sources.
Swap for: tofu, tempeh, vegan meat
There are some very crafty ways to re-create the texture and flavour of meat using plant-based foods. Tempeh, tofu and vegan meats make a good substitute for animal meat as they contain both protein and iron – a mineral that helps to transport oxygen around the body. It is important to note however, that the iron found in plant-based foods (non-haem iron) is not as easily absorbed as the iron found in animal foods (haem iron). Because of this, it is suggested that people who do not eat meat need to consume twice as much non-haem iron (plant-based) than haem iron (animal-based) to meet their recommended daily iron intake.
Looking for some meat-free dinner inspiration? See this delicious veggie burger recipe!
Swap for: chia egg, flax egg, tofu
Protein is an important component of all the cells in our body and is the building block of our bones, muscle, cartilage and skin. If you’re looking for a high protein breakfast without the egg, a tofu scramble or protein chia seed pudding is a great way to start your day. Chia eggs, flax eggs and silken tofu also make a great alternative for eggs when baking, whilst still packing a nutritional punch. Mashed banana and apple sauce also work as egg alternatives in baking but lack the protein in comparison.
Swap for: Walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds
Fish such as salmon, sardines and maceral are a great source of omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are important for maintaining good heart health and also help to reduce inflammation in the body. Plant-based foods that are rich in omega-3’s include walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds and flaxseeds. If you’re craving something that is fish flavoured, using kelp powder, dulse flakes or nori sheets in your cooking is a great way to achieve this flavour whilst also enjoying the nutritional benefit of marine minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium and iodine – a mineral that is essential for healthy thyroid function.
Nuzest Good Green Stuff also contains marine vegetables too!
Swap for: cashew cheese, macadamia cheese
Making your own cashew or macadamia nut cheese is a great way to create a creamy, cheese alternative that can be added to your salads, spread on crackers, or used as a dip to enjoy with vegetable sticks as a snack. Because the cashews and macadamias are mild in flavour, adding some sea salt, cracked pepper, herbs and spices really makes nut-based cheeses come to life. Whilst nut-based cheeses are lower in protein than dairy cheese, they tend to be lower in saturated fat and sodium, contain healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, and have higher levels of fibre and essential vitamins and minerals.
Swap for: coconut, almond or cashew yogurt
Yogurt is a good source of calcium and the naturally occurring gut-friendly probiotic Lactobacillus acidophilus. L. acidophilus helps milk to curdle and gives yoghurt it’s sour taste, whilst also being beneficial for reducing the lactose sugar found in milk that lots of people have difficulty digesting. There are a number of plant-based yogurts on the market such as coconut, almond and cashew yogurt that have probiotics added to them. However, it is more difficult to find plant-based yogurts that have a calcium content comparable to that of dairy based yogurts. As mentioned previously, it is important when switching to a plant-based yogurt, be sure to consume your calcium from another food source.
Swap for: raw chocolate
Unfortunately, many of the commercially produced chocolates we have come to love so much are highly processed and rely on refined sugars and artificial flavours that keep you eating and buying more! Fortunately, the plant-based chocolate market keeps the cacao bean (the bean used to make chocolate) front and centre, with most brands using raw cacao powder and butter to create their creamy raw chocolate. Because of this, raw chocolate has quite a few star qualities, including higher levels of antioxidant polyphenols, methylxanthines and essential minerals including magnesium, zinc, potassium, calcium and iron.
Swap for: Banana nice-cream
One of my favourite plant-based swaps for dairy milk ice-cream is banana nice-cream! It is super easy to prepare, nutritious, delicious and can be flavoured to create whatever taste combination you like! Frozen bananas work best as a base, however other frozen fruits such as mangoes and strawberries work too. Try this Vanilla Matcha Protein Nice Cream for a high protein tasty treat!
These swaps are by no means exhaustive. There are many factors that need to be considered when transitioning to a plant-based diet. It is recommended that you consult an Accredited Practicing Dietitian or Qualified Nutritionist for individualised advice and guidance.
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