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Vegan, Vegetarian, Flexitarian: Why Is Everyone Talking About Plant-Based Diets?

The number of people in Australia who follow vegetarian or plant-based diets is growing rapidly, and for good reason. Countless recent studies have shown the ample benefits of plant-based diets for our health and the planet.

Between 2012 and 2016, an extra 400,000 Australian adults adopted all or almost vegetarian diets – a rise of 1.5%. This may not seem like much, but for a country whose staple meal was historically meat and three veg, this is quite a cultural transformation.

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 Image Source: Roy Morgan

Whether you’re trying to adopt a vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or flexitarian diet (or even if you’re thinking of changing your eating habits towards a more Mediterranean diet), chances are you’re doing it for a specific reason. So, are people swapping chicken stir-fries for more tofu, carbs, beans and greens for health reasons? Or is it more about doing their part for the environment? And why do plant-based diets mean good things for us and the globe? Let’s explore…

Adopting a plant-based diet for health reasons

An overwhelming number of studies have been emerging for the past decade, bringing evidence to the table that a plant-based diet improves your health in a variety of ways, and it looks like the masses are beginning to listen to the science.

Plants are rich sources of nutrients that are imperative for good health, such as fibre, protein, minerals and vitamins. It’s also been shown that plant-based diets are linked to lower risks of obesity, inflammation, diabetes and cancer. Not only that, but we’re learning that healthy vegetarian diets could, over time, boost our immune systems.

But – don’t be fooled. It’s important that we don’t confuse vegetarianism with plant-based diets. Vegetarian or not, anyone could fill their diet with junk food and nasty ingredients – so the choice is yours. Opting for a vegetarian diet with a plant-based emphasis, however, is more likely to give us the nutritional goodness we need to function properly.

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Environmental benefits of plant-based diets

Plant-based diets don’t just boost our health and potentially lengthen our lives; there are also extensive, positive environmental impacts we make when we choose to reach out for that quinoa salad over a beef lasagne.

New evidence is coming out weekly, showing how we’re heading towards a global food crisis. The experts are telling us in bold, capital letters that we need to change the way we eat and produce food.

The Lancet report – a new planetary health diet

The new Lancet report published at the beginning of this year (2019) has stressed that we won’t be able to feed the 10 billion people expected to be on the planet by 2050 unless we make huge changes to our diets and farming practices. In this report, thirty-seven scientists prescribed quite controversial and specific dietary advice that they called the ‘planetary health diet’. They’ve stated that to survive as a species, everyone on earth should eat mostly vegetables, grains, legumes and nuts, and restrict red meat consumption to just one serving per week.

The diet, which allows for 2,500 calories a day, permits one beef burger and two servings of fish per week, with most of your daily protein coming from plants and nuts. A glass of milk a day, or some cheese or butter fit within the guidelines, as does an egg or two a week. Basically, the ‘planetary health diet’ puts a huge emphasis on plants, with vegetables and fruit meant to make up half of every plate of food.

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 Image Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre

The pros and cons of the planetary health diet

To many people, these guidelines may seem quite drastic, but of course, no one is enforcing it. But whether you are vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, flexitarian or someone with no meat-based restrictions in your diet, the Lancet report has highlighted that “plant-based foods cause fewer adverse environmental effects” compared to animal products across all metrics.

So, why scale back meat consumption and not just improve farming practices? Well, the report has estimated that:

“Changes in food production practices could reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 by 10 percent, whereas increased consumption of plant-based diets could reduce emissions by 80 percent.

So ideally, by scaling back on dairy and meat for the masses and opting for more grains, legumes, and nuts; we could fix a huge portion of the climate and pollution mess.

However, some researchers and medical experts are sceptical about this new diet being adopted on a global scale. Researcher John Ioannidis says if all humans are expected to follow this diet, then more testing and research needs to be done to prove if there is a single set of nutritional guidelines that are as specific as those laid out in the Lancet report. Meanwhile, Dr Georgia Ede says the diet won’t suit everyone, like with those with insulin resistance (pre-diabetes) whose insulin levels tend to run too high. She says a high-carbohydrate diet could potentially be dangerous.

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So… should you adopt a plant-based diet?

That decision depends very much on your personal preferences and dietary needs, and it’s worth discussing with a medical expert before you dive in. Your health is in your hands, as is the planet’s health. Seeing as only 5.1 per cent of Australians eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables per day (5 veggies and 2 fruits), it’s definitely worth upping your fruit and vegetable intake in general.

How to supplement your plant-based diet

If you’re keen to up your intake of nuts, legumes and whole grains alongside your new plant-based diet, then there are many products to choose from available at Naked Foods. Browse our selections of rices, nuts and beans, lentils and peas.

Written by Emily Leary

Leave us a comment below to tell us your thoughts or any diet changes you've made for the planet!

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