You’ve probably noticed that plant-based eating has been getting a lot of media attention recently. The interest in vegetarian, vegan and ‘flexitarian’ or low-meat diets has skyrocketed in the past few years. As a consequence, foregoing or limiting meat and other animal products is no longer considered outlandish or thought of as just another passing food fad.
But what is plant-based eating exactly? Simply put, it’s a diet composed either exclusively or primarily of foods of plant origin, including veggies, grains, nuts, seeds, beans and fruits. Animal products, such as meat, fish, milk and eggs, feature in small amounts if at all.
If you’ve ever been curious about plant-based eating, there’s never been a better time to give it a go –the availability of plant-based products is at an all-time high as global brands and new start-ups alike are catering for this new growing demographic.
1. The benefits of eating a plant-based diet
So why are people switching to plant-based eating, and why might you want to give it a dabble? The most common reasons to favour veggie fare include the following:
Compassion for animals
Animals are the most obvious beneficiaries of the plant-based eating trend. It’s estimated that collectively we munch our way through more than 56 billion farmed animals every year. And this number doesn’t include fish (consumption of seafood is measured in tonnes) or animals like the majority of male calves and chicks that are disposed of shortly after birth because they can’t produce milk and eggs. And even dairy cows and hens live only a fraction of their natural lifespan because they’re only kept alive while their productivity is at its highest. By changing the way we consume animal products and therefore vote with our wallets, we can join the ever-growing collective message that animals deserve better.
Treading lightly on our planet
For many, the environmental impact of animal agriculture is the main reason why they choose to reduce their meat and dairy consumption. Growing plant crops is a more effective way to feed the world than raising animals for food: it takes up far less space and uses less water as well as producing less waste and greenhouse gas emissions.
Eating for health and beauty
Finally, lots of people decide to switch from a diet heavy in animal products to a more plant-based lifestyle to look after their health. Many studies show that adopting a plant-based diet can help prevent or even reverse many of the more common health conditions from heart disease to diabetes. Other benefits of incorporating more veggie meals may include higher energy levels, a healthier weight, better sleep and improved mental health.
And if you’re interested in eating for beauty, making space for more fruit and veg on your plate ups your intake of vitamins, healthy fats, fibre plus many micronutrients and can lead to a clearer and brighter complexion.
2. How to transition towards a plant-based way of eating
Do it at your pace
Do you find the idea of plant-based eating appealing … but completely daunting at the same time?
If going ‘pure plants’ feels too extreme right now, why not commit to one plant-based meal a day for a month and see how it goes? Every healthy veggie meal you eat will benefit you, the animals and the planet, whether you eventually decide to go fully plant-based or perhaps choose a flexitarian approach.
Retrain your taste buds
What if you just aren’t too keen on eating veggies? Or don’t want to give up your favourite (animal-based) foods? Put the focus first on sampling new plant-based foods and trying out different recipes instead of eliminating foods you love from your diet. With the staggering amount of blogs featuring plant-based recipes from around the globe, you’re bound to discover dishes that will please your taste buds (and might even become new favourites). Research suggests that our palates can adjust to dietary changes over time: the more we eat certain things, the more likely we are to enjoy them too.
Speaking of recipes, here are two simple-to-make but oh-so-satisfying plant-based dishes for you to try out. Featured on the Minimalist Baker (where blogger Dana shares her passion for healthy, simple meals that not only taste incredible but come together fast), they might just convince you that you’re not going to miss meat and dairy that much after all.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Avocado Pudding (A recipe by the Minimalist Baker)
Chock-full of healthy fats and whole-food goodness, this dessert (or breakfast … why not?) tastes much naughtier than it is. And all you need to whip it up is a handful of ingredients and a couple of minutes – the steps are pretty much just blend and chill before you dive in.
Ingredients (6 portions)
- 1 1/2 ripe avocados
- 1 large ripe banana
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa or cacao powder
- 1/2 salted peanut butter + more for topping
- 1/2 cup sweetener of choice (e.g. maple syrup, agave or date paste)
- 1/4 cup almond milk or other non-dairy milk
- Add all ingredients into a food processor and blend until creamy and smooth.
- Divide between 6 small serving glasses, cover with plastic wrap (pressing the plastic wrap down on the pudding to prevent a skin from forming and chill for a few hours, or overnight.
- Top with a drizzle of salted peanut butter.
30-minute Coconut Curry (A recipe by the Minimalist Baker)
We’ve got your dinner sorted, too. Rich yet healthy and lightly spiced (though you can always add more spices to get your desired level of heat and flavour), this colourful Indian-inspired curry can be adapted by substituting your favourite vegetables or whatever you happen to have. Pair the curry with quinoa for an extra protein kick and you’ve got yourself a meal that covers most of your nutritional bases.
Ingredients (4 portions):
- 1 Tbsp coconut or olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger (or 1 tsp ground)
- 1/2 cup broccoli florets (or green bell pepper), diced
- 1/2 cup diced carrots
- 1/4 cup diced tomato
- 1/3 cup snow peas (loosely cut)
- 1 Tbsp curry powder
- optional: Pinch cayenne or 1 dried red chili, diced (for heat)
- 2 14-ounce cans light coconut milk (sub full-fat for richer texture)
- 1 cup veggie stock
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- For serving (optional): fresh lemon juice, fresh herbs, red pepper flakes
- Heat a large saucepan or pot to medium heat and add 1 Tbsp coconut oil. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, carrot, broccoli and a pinch each salt and pepper and stir. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened – about 5 minutes.
- Add curry powder, cayenne (or chili pepper), veggie stock, coconut milk, another healthy pinch of salt and stir. Bring to a simmer then reduce heat slightly and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes.
- Add the snow peas and tomatoes in the last 5 minutes so they don’t overcook.
- Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. I added another pinch or two of salt.
- Serve over quinoa, rice or millet and garnish with fresh lemon juice and herbs.