Nutrition

Plant-Based Diets

26 Sep 2019

A plant-based diet is made up mostly of plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds. These are high in fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients and usually lower in calories compared to other foods. Plant-based diets do not necessarily exclude meat but it simply means that you are choosing more food from plant sources while cutting down on meat. Vegetarian and vegan diets can be considered plant-based diets.

Types of Vegetarian Diets

Lacto-ovo-vegetarianLacto-vegetarianOvo-vegetarianSemi-vegetarian or FlexitarianPescatarianVegan
No meat or poultry but animal products are allowed (dairy, eggs, honey)No meat, poultry or eggs. Dairy and honey are allowed.No meat, poultry or dairy. Eggs and honey are allowed.Occasional intake of meat, poultry, fish and seafood. Animal products are allowed.No meat or poultry. Fish, seafood and animal products are allowed.No meat or animal products

Plant-based diets – How do they impact my health & the environment?
Plant-based diets have health advantages. According to a report by the USA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a diet higher in plant-based foods, lower in animal-based foods and lower in calories is good for your health. According to Harvard University’s health blog, it states that plant-based diets such as the Mediterranean diet shows lower risk of chronic diseases, certain cancers, depression and frailty in older age. The blog also mention that vegetarian diets carry similar benefits – as well as greater longevity.

Plant-based diets are also better for the environment. The USA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee states that plant-based diets are associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions and less water, land and energy use. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 15 400 litres of water are needed to produce 1kg of beef and the demand for meat worldwide is expected to rise 73% by 2050. In contrast, 322 litres of water are needed to grow 1kg of vegetables. Thus, there is a greater push for people to consider more plant-based diets not only for its health benefits but also to help the environment.

Plant-based meats & meat substitutes
Plant-based meats or meat substitutes are making waves in the consumer market. These use biotechnology and food science to create the taste, texture and appearance of meat with a far less environmental impact compared to traditional meat. These meat substitutes are 100% plant-based and considered vegan .In future, meat substitute companies are also looking to create plant-based fish, chicken, bacon, milk and cheese.

Although such meat substitutes are better for the environment, many of these food substitutes have coconut fat which is high in saturated fat and could be deep-fried or served with deep-fried sides. So, consuming too much of such food can still impact your health negatively.

Tips to get you started on a plant-based diet

  1. Build your meals around vegetables, for example, do fill half your plate with a variety of vegetables
  2. Depending on your chosen plant-based diet, replace some or all of your meat with beans, legumes and soy protein such as tofu
  3. Ask for fresh milk (low fat or skimmed milk are better)
  4. Choose 1 day of the week to go vegetarian. Meatless Monday is a global movement which encourages people to not eat meat on Mondays – to improve health and protect the environment.

Choose a diet that suits your lifestyle and medical condition, if any. For example, certain patients with kidney disease should avoid fruits and vegetables which are high in potassium. If you are exploring a vegetarian or vegan diet, remember to substitute meat and animal products with plant foods which give your body the nutrients it needs. This is to avoid nutrient deficiencies. For example, meat and dairy products are high in zinc, iron and calcium. To get these nutrients on a vegetarian or vegan diet, you can choose tofu, leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and calcium-enriched soymilk instead.

REFERENCES
Chan J. (2019) Plant it forward: Is plant-based meat a fad or our future? Retrieved from
<https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/lifestyle/food-drink/plant-it-forward>

Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. (2015) Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Agriculture. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Washington, DC. Accessed 9 August 2019.

Fellet M. (2015) A Fresh Take on Fake Meat. ACS Cent Sci. 2015 Oct 28; 1(7): 347–349. Retrieved from: <http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3985e.pdf>
Accessed 16 September 2019.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (2014) Dairy Asia: Towards sustainability. Proceedings of an international consultation held in Bangkok, Thailand. Retrieved from:
< https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4827462/>
Accessed 12 August 2019.

McManus K.D. (2018). What is a Plant-based Diet and Why Should You try It? Harvard Health Blog. Harvard Medical School. Harvard University. Retrieved from:
<https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-a-plant-based-diet-and-why-should-you-try-it-2018092614760>
Accessed 7 August 2019.

Neo C.C. (2018) Like real meat, but guilt-free? Beyond Burger debuts in Singapore. Retrieved from:
<https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/real-meat-guilt-free-beyond-burger-debuts-singapore>
Accessed 12 August 2019.

Vegetarianism (2019) Practice-based Evidence in Nutrition and Dietitians of Canada.

This article is contributed by Rachel Tso, Dietitian at Mount Alvernia Hospital. To learn more about our Nutrition and Dietitian services, click here