Plant-Based Nutrition

This article is written by Beyda Beteri ANutr.


The plant-based diet is often used to describe a plant-only or vegan diet, but it’s not actually about avoiding animal products altogether. Contrary to the popular belief, plant-based diets do not have to be vegan or vegetarian. Food from animal products can still be consumed in preferred amounts [3].


What is a plant-based diet?

Plant-based nutrition is a type of nutrition in which nutrients from plants are at the centre of the diet. The diet consists mostly of plants, including vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds [1,2].

Plant-based diets are becoming more popular in recent years with the increasing availability of plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products. According to the 2018 National Diet and Nutrition Survey, 4.5% of the UK population follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. This means that there are over 3 million vegetarians and vegans (adults and children over 18 months) in the UK. 

The reason for the transition to plant-based diets has been influenced by both health and environmental concerns. Growing evidence suggests that high intakes of red and processed meats increase the risk of cancers such as colorectal cancer. In addition, the consumption of meat and dairy products is associated with higher greenhouse gas emissions [4].

Plant-based diets depend on the extent to which a person includes animal-based foods in their diet and are classified as;

Lacto-ovo vegetarians – exclude meat, seafood and poultry but consume dairy products and eggs,

Ovo-vegetarians exclude all animal-based foods except eggs,

Lacto-vegetarians – exclude all animal-based foods except dairy products,

Pescatarians – similar to Lacto-vegetarians but they consume seafood,

Semi-vegetarians eat mostly plant-based foods but rarely eat animal-based products,

Vegans – exclude all animal-based products [1,2].


The image below illustrates different classifications of plant-based diets:

This image was created by Beyda Beteri ANutr to illustrate different classifications of plant-based diets.

What are the main characteristics of a healthy plant-based diet?

The basic principles of a healthy and balanced plant-based diet are as follows;

  • Eat most – vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds
  • Eat moderately ā€“ eggs, fish and low-fat dairy products or alternatives
  • Eat less – salt and saturated fat
  • Limits ā€“ red and processed meats, refined foods such as refined grains, sugar-sweetened foods, white flour, processed oils and beverages
  • Limits or avoids – animal products

The Mediterranean Diet, the Nordic Diet and the Eatwell Guide are other examples of plant-based diets because they all emphasize plant-based foods, include moderate amounts of eggs, fish and small amounts of dairy, but limit processed foods, red meat and sweets [4,5].

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid [6] is illustrated in the image.

The Baltic Sea Diet Pyramid, illustrates the healthy and balanced diet in Nordic countries [7].

The Eatwell Guide shows the government recommendations on eating healthily and achieving a balanced diet [8].


To conclude, despite all the label and classifications, it is important to consume a varied, colourful and balanced diet rich in plant-based food sources for optimal health and wellness.

References:

  1. https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/vegetarian-vegan-plant-based-diet.html
  2. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12102983
  3. https://www.eufic.org/en/healthy-living/article/what-is-a-plant-based-diet-and-does-it-have-any-benefits 
  4. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/putting-it-into-practice/plant-based-diets/plant-based-diets/ 
  5. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-nordic-diet-healthy-fare-with-an-eco-friendly-bent-201511198673 
  6. https://nutrition.org/living-mediterranean-lifestyle/ 
  7. https://doi.org/10.1017/s1368980013002395 
  8. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/742750/Eatwell_Guide_booklet_2018v4.pdf 

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