Diets have always been a major part of culture and they often come and go just like fashion trends. More recently, you may have noticed that plant-based diets are getting a lot of attention with many people adopting the ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’ diet. There are many reasons for people choosing to adhere to a plant-based diet such as animal welfare, environmental factors (eg. climate change), religious beliefs, and cultural norms… but what exactly is a plant-based diet and why is it gaining so much popularity in populations around the world?
What exactly is a plant-based diet?
Plant-based diets are mostly made up of whole plant foods that include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. There are varying levels of plant-based diets. For example, strict plant-based diets such as the vegan diet is the removal of all animals products, while a vegetarian may be mostly plant-based while excluding meat, but including other animal products such as eggs or dairy. On the other hand you can still be technically plant-based while consuming the occasional animal product too, these people fall under the ‘flexitarian’ category.
What are the health benefits of a plant-based diet?
When compared to an omnivorous diet (that includes both plant foods and animal products), plant-based diets have been associated with reduced weight and reduced risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, type 2-diabetes, and some cancers. (1)
One of the major reasons why the plant-based diet is believed to be so beneficial is due to the large amount of fibre found in plant-based diets. Fibre is the indigestible parts of plant foods, such as vegetables, fruits, grains, beans and legumes. When we eat fibre it produces these chemicals in the gut called ‘short chain fatty acids’ (SCFAs) that are beneficial to our gut bacteria and help in reducing inflammation (cool huh!). Furthermore, plant-based foods contain a large variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are beneficial to many functions in the body (2).
What are some nutritional deficiencies that can occur when using a plant-based diet?
Before starting any new diet it’s always best to be aware of any nutritional deficiencies that can occur in the diet. So what are some nutrients to pay close attention to in the plant-based diet?
Ahhh, The great protein debate! Many people have claimed that obtaining protein in a plant-based diet can be difficult and while plant-based proteins may not be as well absorbed as animal-proteins, it is still possible to get enough protein in a plant-based diet. Studies suggest eating 10-20% more plant-based protein to overcome this problem. Some good sources of plant-based proteins are legumes, soy products, whole-grains, nuts, and of course hemp seeds! What’s even cooler about hemp seeds is that they contain all 9 essential amino acids (rare for a plant-based protein!), so you don’t have to worry about combining plant-based proteins to get complete proteins (complete proteins are proteins that contain all 20 amino acids aka the building blocks of protein) (3)
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids are fats required from the diet, as our body is unable to make them on our own. These fatty acids are important for regulating inflammation and maintaining healthy nerve and brain function. Oily fish is one the better animal sources of omega 3 fatty acids. However, this can be an issue consuming oily fish for people who consume a plant-based diet. There’s no need to worry as you can also get essential fatty acids from plant-based sources too! What’s great about hemp seed oil is that it contains the perfect ratio of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids and is therefore a great substitute for oily fish when obtaining essential fatty acids while on a plant-based diet (4).
Iron is a mineral that plays an important role in supplying oxygen to the body. It also has many other functions in the body that include energy production, immune function, brain function and maintaining healthy hair, skin and nails. There are two types of iron: haem iron (found in animal products) and non-haem iron (found in plant-based foods). Haem iron (animal) is better absorbed in the body and is typically found in high amounts in red meat. Non-haem iron (plant) is less absorbed in the gut and can be found in large amounts in lentils, spinach, and tofu. The good news is that non-haem iron absorption can be increased when combining foods containing vitamin c such as broccoli, red and yellow capsicums, tomatoes, and citrus fruits. 100g of hemp seeds contain almost 14g of iron making it an easy way to increase your iron intake consuming a plant-based diet (5).
Calcium is another essential mineral in the body. Its main role is supporting healthy bones and teeth. Historically, calcium has been marketed to found only in large amounts in dairy products. Despite this notion getting your daily dose of calcium is definitely possible in a plant-based diet. High amounts of calcium can be found in fortified foods such as plant-based milks eg: soy, rice, almond, and oat milk (however it’s always best to check the labels as they will differ based on the company – aim for 300mg of calcium per serving). Green leafy vegetables are also an excellent source of calcium and other important nutrients. Combine these foods with hemp seeds that contain 72g of calcium per 100g and you’re well on your way to maintaining healthy bones and teeth (6)
Vitamin B12 is probably the most important nutrient to consider when on a vegan diet. Vitamin B12 is essential for healthy nerves and the production of blood cells for energy. Vitamin B12 is predominantly found in animal products. B12 deficiency can cause fatigue, headaches, loss of appetite, behavioural and mood disorders. The good news is that you can easily supplement with B12! If you’re a vegan we recommend discussing with your doctor so they can monitor your B12 levels in the blood (7).
So what does a plant-based diets have to do with climate change?
In Australia, emissions from agriculture contribute to approximately 13% of the total national greenhouse gas emissions each year. This is fourth largest cause for emissions after electricity, stationary energy, and transport. The majority of emissions come from methane production when cows burp and pass wind with smaller amounts contributed from fertiliser.
One of the simplest ways you can reduce emissions is to reduce the amount of animal products you eat (particularly beef, lamb, and dairy products) and increase the consumption of plant-based foods that can also help to reduce water-wastage and land use (contribute to climate change).
Another important factor to consider is food wastage. Australians throw out approximately 20% of the food they buy. Rotting food produces methane, with Australians generating the methane equivalent to around 6.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. (8)
What’s our take on plant-based diets?
At 13 seeds we believe that adopting a plant-based diet is one the best things you can do, not only for your health but also the environment. We don’t expect everyone to go vegan overnight, but you can make a difference by just simply reducing your animal product intake. This small change could have major benefits for you and the environment.
Hemp seeds are fast becoming a staple in a plant-based diet. This is because hemp seeds contain many important nutrients for health that include essential fatty acids, protein, low sugar, and impressive array of vitamins and minerals making it the perfect addition to any diet!
If you have any questions about plant-based diets feel free to get in touch with our Head of Nutrition Ben at email@example.com for further support