An Apple a Day? – How Plant-based Diets Can Improve Health and Well-being

By Katie Wright, Newcastle University Pharmacy Student 6th February 2018

As well as having an impact on maintaining our weight, the diet we eat can have great effects on our health and well-being. From increasing fibre to helping prevent cardio-vascular disease, a plant-based diet can aid our health in many ways.

Plant-based benefits

A plant-based diet is one that avoids consumption of meat, dairy and eggs and focuses on eating un-processed plant foods such as: fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and legumes. The consumption of these foods in abundance leads to a naturally higher intake of fibre, magnesium, vitamins C and E and folic acid, whilst generally being lower in calories, (bad) cholesterol and saturated fat(1). Studies have shown that a higher intake of fibre can lead to lower rates of colorectal cancer and bowel disease(2). In addition, the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization evidence criteria shows that a diet high in fruit and vegetables shows a cancer risk reduction was probable or possible, cardiovascular disease reduction was convincing, and a lower risk of osteoporosis was assessed as probable(3).

What about protein?

A common misconception about a plant-based diet is that it is hard to get protein and people struggle to meet the daily requirements, or requirements needed to build muscle. However, it is easy to meet protein requirements with plants whilst keeping fat intake lower.

Plant Protein:

Food Protein (g) per 100g Fat (g) per 100g
Soy protein isolate 88.32 3.39
Seaweed, spirulina, dried 57.47 7.72
Lupins, mature seeds, raw 36.17 9.74
Broad Beans (fava beans), mature seeds, raw 26.12 1.53
Beans, kidney, royal red, mature seeds, raw 25.33 0.45
Lentils, raw 24.63 1.06
Peas, green, split, mature seeds, raw 23.82 1.16

Non-Plant Protein:

Food Protein (g) per 100g Fat (g) per 100g
Chicken, broilers or fryers, back, meat and skint, cooked, roasted 25.95 20.97
Fish, whitefish, mixed species, raw 19.09 5.86
Beef, ground, 70% lean meat / 30% fat, raw 14.35 30
Pork, cured, bacon, unprepared 12.62 39.69
Egg, whole, raw, fresh 12.56 9.51
Milk, reduced fat, fluid, 2% milkfat, without added vitamin A and vitamin D 3.3 1.98

* Nutritional information sourced from United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (4).

Weight

It has been seen that following a plant based diet has a positive effect on lowering weight and BMI and promoting the health benefits that come with being a healthy weight. It has also been seen to increase life expectancy (5).

Eating Plant-Based

It can be difficult to know where to start when wanting to follow plant-based eating. The NHS recommends following the eat-well guide. This can also be applied to the plant-based diet.

Eatwell Guide

Examples

Whole-grain starchy carbohydrates. Should make up a third of what we eat, choose high-fibre whole wheat options:

  • Rice
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Oats
  • Couscous
  • Buckwheat
  • Noodles (rice, buckwheat, ramen, udon)
  • Dried pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Barley
  • Etc.

Fruits and Vegetables (Fresh, frozen, tinned, dried, juiced) At least 5 portions daily. A portion is 80g or a piece of fruit (eg. An apple), 3 tbsp of vegetables, a dessert bowl of salad, 30g dried fruit or 150ml juiced.

  • Leafy Greens
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Nectarines
  • Swede
  • Turnip
  • Sweetcorn
  • Berries
  • Mango
  • Papaya
  • Cabbage
  • Sprouts
  • Etc.

Oils and Spreads

  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil
  • Canola Oil
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Rapeseed Oil

Dairy Alternatives

  • Nut milks
  • Soya Milk
  • Rice Milk
  • Oat Milk

Beans, Pulses and Other Protein:

  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • All types of beans
  • Peas
  • Tofu
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

(6)

It is also important to drink plenty of water a day, 2-3l daily is recommended.

What to watch out for

The majority of vitamins and minerals can be reached through a plant-based diet easily. However vitamin B12 should be supplemented to avoid deficiency. Nut milks and soy products are fortified with B-12 to aid this (1).

References

1. Craig W. Health effects of vegan diets. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009;89(5):1627S-1633S.

2. Lockyer S, Spiro A, Stanner S. Dietary fibre and the prevention of chronic disease – should health professionals be doing more to raise awareness?. Nutrition Bulletin. 2016;41(3):214-231.

3. Ströhle A, Waldmann A, Wolters M, Hahn A. Vegetarian nutrition: Preventive potential and possible risks. Part 1: Plant foods. Wien Klin Wochenschr. 2006;118(19-20):580-93.

4. Nutrient Data Laboratory : USDA ARS [Internet]. Ars.usda.gov. 2017 [cited 18 December 2017]. Available from: https://www.ars.usda.gov/northeast-area/beltsville-md/beltsville-human-nutrition-research-center/nutrient-data-laboratory/

5. Le L, Sabaté J. Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets: Findings from the Adventist Cohorts. Nutrients. 2014;6(6):2131-2147.

6. Eatwell Guide – Food Standards Agency [Internet]. Food.gov.uk. 2017 [cited 19 December 2017]. Available from: https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/eatwell-guide.pdf

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