EDITION: April - June 2013

Plant Based Nutrition

By Ruth Osborn
The interest in plant based nutrition – eating and getting the nutrients the body needs from plants – has been receiving more attention in recent years. The popularity of movements such as ‘meatless Mondays’ (opting to go without meat on Mondays) and the ‘flexitarian’ trend (sometimes vegetarian, sometimes not) are indicative of this. This trend is backed by a growing body of research showing the negative effects that consuming animal products have on our bodies (not to mention the environment) and the benefits of eating a plant based diet.  

One of the most comprehensive studies on the impact that nutrition has on human health “The China Study” examines the relationship between the consumption of animal based foods and chronic illnesses. The findings of the China Study are based on 20 years of research that examined mortality rates and incidence of diseases including 48 forms of cancer, coronary heart disease and diabetes across China. The study found a correlation between diet and disease. In areas where diet was high in consumption of animal-based foods there were higher rates of chronic illnesses.  In areas where diets were more plant based there was significantly less incidence of such diseases. It is the thesis of T Colin Campbell, one of the authors of the study, that diets high in animal protein are the cause of many of the diseases prevalent in the Western world and that the diseases are both preventable and curable by switching to a plant based diet. If you are interested to find out more detail about the study into the effects of animal based foods on the body but don’t want to read the full study there is a documentary Forks over Knives which is based upon the findings of the study.

If you’d like to increase the amount of plant based foods in your diet a good place to start is by having a green drink in the morning. Make a breakfast smoothie by putting some of your favourite fruits or berries, a non-dairy milk with a handful of spinach or other green leaves in a blender and you have a nutrient dense drink start to your day.  Apart from the vibrant green colour of the drink you’ll not know the spinach or greens are in there.

A well put together plant based meal will leave you feeling full and energized.  At lunch or dinner make sure whatever you’re eating is accompanied by a big leafy green salad (and a rainbow of other coloured vegetables and fruits). As a rule of thumb half of your lunch or dinner plate should be multi-coloured vegetables or a salad with leafy greens as the base. This will provide you with many of the vitamins, minerals and micro nutrients that your body needs.  Lentils are a good choice for a main dish as they do not need pre-soaking like other legumes so can be cooked straight away. Lentils are filling, nutritious, high in fibre and an excellent source of carbohydrate and protein, iron and other trace minerals (a search for vegan lentil recipes will provide you with many options for soups, stews, pates and spreads). For those palates accustomed to meat mushrooms (especially shiitake) are a great addition, providing a strong flavour and a chewy texture.  

The book “Thrive Foods” by Brendan Brazier is a great source of information about plant based nutrition and has over 200 recipes. He has also produced an online programme “Thrive Forward” containing short video clips about plant based nutrition and the benefits to your health and wellbeing. Go to www.thriveforward.com to sign up for free.

Reducing the animal products in your diet could have major health benefits.  Eating more plant based foods more often is a simple form of health insurance. It will have an energising effect, providing your body with more of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients it needs to function and feel good. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, vegan or meat eater, do what suits you, your family and your lifestyle. With any change take it easy and slowly, change one meal at a time or go one day a week. Whether you choose a meal, a day or a few days of the week to go plant based know that it’s a step in the right direction to making you a healthier you. •