From a health perspective, there are good reasons to throw moderation out of the window and eat plenty of minimally processed plant foods.
Here are six of the best:
The right balance
Overall, UK diets contain too much saturated fat and not enough fibre, fruits and vegetables. Minimally processed plant foods tend to be low in saturated fat and rich in fibre, whereas animal foods are not a source of fibre. Switching to plant-based alternatives can help you to get the balance right. For example, an 80g portion of kidney beans provides protein – one of your five a day and about 16% of your daily fibre target.
Fruit and veg: beyond five a day
Research suggests that this food group tends to be a major part of the diets of people who live long and healthy lives. In the UK, the five a day message has been around for a while, but people are still struggling to eat enough and as a result are missing out on valuable vitamins, minerals and fibre. For the 31% of UK adults hitting the five a day target, it could be worth aiming higher. The Global Burden of Disease Study produced a recommendation to eat 300g of fruit and 500g of vegetables daily for optimal health, which equates to roughly ten a day.
Although the UK is gripped by protein fever, this nutrient is not in short supply. Arguably, we should be focusing on the type of protein in our diets. The Government’s Eatwell Guide encourages people to eat more beans and pulses for health and sustainability reasons, but many people aren’t even aware that plant foods can provide good quality protein. We need to show people that legumes (beans, peas and lentils) can be a tasty and nutritious alternative to meat and other sources of animal protein.
Lifestyle choices have a big impact on heart health. Most guidelines about heart-friendly eating encourage consumption of foods that feature heavily in well-balanced vegan diets like wholegrains, nuts, fruit and vegetables, including legumes. Some studies have linked vegan diets with lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and lower rates of heart disease.
In the UK, around a third of cancer cases are preventable, and we can all take steps to reduce our risk. The World Cancer Research Fund recommends making wholegrains and legumes a major part of your daily diet, and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables – at least five a day. It’s easy to meet this recommendation if you eat a balanced vegan diet, and research has linked this way of eating to lower rates of some types of cancer.
No planet B
Human health depends on planetary health, so any efforts that we make to live more sustainably can also be viewed as healthy choices. Farming billions of animals every year uses up a lot of resources and makes a major contribution to pollution. Generally, plant foods have lower environmental footprints than animal products.
For more information about totally plant-based nutrition, visit The Vegan Society’s nutrition pages here.