Ask A Dietitian: All Your Burning Questions About Going Plant-Based Answered

A newbie's guide to eating greener with registered dietitian Ciara McNulty @thefakevegan_

Looking to change up your lifestyle? We’ll we’ve got the experts on speed dial, and today, Ciara McNulty, registered dietitian and all round educational foodie online @thefakevegan_ is here to answer all your questions and bust all those myths about going plant-based.

1. Getting protein into your diet is hard when you don’t eat meat.

This is absolutely false! There is a big variety of plant-based protein sources that can be eaten when following a plant-based lifestyle. It’s true that some plant sources are not ‘complete’ proteins, meaning they do not contain every essential amino acid – animal proteins will contain all amino acids in once source, but some plant sources like soya products – soy beans, tofu, tempeh and soy milk are complete proteins. I recommend combining sources at each meal, for example, hummus and pita bread or red lentils and wholegrain rice. Some example of non-meat proteins are eggs, tofu, beans, green peas, lentils, milk and dairy products, soya products, protein powders, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.

 2. A plant-based lifestyle is the same thing as being a vegetarian.

 

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There are differences between leading a plant-based lifestyle and being a vegetarian. Although vegetarians are technically leaning towards ‘plant-based’, there are different variations of plant-based lifestyles and each is individual to the person themselves. For example, a vegetarian may not eat meat but may decide to wear leather clothing products. Plant-based individuals tend to reduce consumption of animal products across the board including leather, snake skin and animal fur. Another difference comes in the form of eating animal products that are not meat, for example eggs and dairy. Vegetarians will eat these products, but some individuals that are plant-based may exclude these from their diet.

3. Going plant-based will leave you feeling more tired and less full.

Plant based diets should not leave you feeling hungry and tired. It all comes down to being smart with your intake and making sure you are having fulfilling, balanced meals and snacks regularly throughout the day. Just like a ‘normal’ diet, plant-based meals should provide all key macronutrients i.e. carbohydrate, protein and fat. Not to mention they should be packed with colourful fruit and vegetables. Once you are adequately fuelling yourself by eating enough of the right foods, then tiredness and hunger should be avoided.

4. A plant-based lifestyle means a cheaper weekly food shop.

This is definitely something I have found myself when it comes to food shopping. Typically, the basis of plant-based meals are fresh fruit, veg, wholegrains, legumes and dairy/ dairy alternatives. In the supermarkets, these products are cheap relative to meat and dairy. A block of tofu costs about 2-3 euro per 4 servings, compared to meat which can go up to 2-3 euro per serving. Tinned items are also common place in a plant-based diet e.g. beans, sweetcorn, peas, tomatoes. These are very budget-friendly at 50 cent or less! It’s important to note that leading a whole-foods focused diet will reduce costs, but relying heavily on pre-made meals or snacks, sauces, desserts or confectionary can be expensive.

5. You are restricted to eating only vegetables and salad dishes when you’re plant-based.

 

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Vegetables account for one, very small plant-based food group. Yes, they are great to create the foundation of your meals due to the wide variety of flavour, texture and nutrients, they are not the be all and end all. It’s actually important to consider many other food groups that play a key role in our nutrition and overall health. Carbohydrates, protein and fats need to be included routinely in our diets. Vegetables are low in protein and fat. Many vegetables are also low in carbohydrate. We need to look at carbohydrates from wholegrains e.g. brown rice, pasta, breads or starchy carbohydrate vegetables like potatoes, sweet potato and parsnip. Next, each meal should contain protein which may come from soy milk, eggs, beans/ peas/ lentils or tofu. Fats are one of the most important ones to consider, especially when eaten in combination with vegetables. Fat in your diet is responsible for helping absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K. Without fat from e.g. avocado, tahini, olive oil, the goodness from your rainbow-coloured diet cannot take effect in the body.

6. You need to be a good cook and creative in the kitchen to go plant-based.

I think one of the best parts about being plant-based is the nature of the foods abundant in the diet being full of flavour, texture and colour. Vegetables, fruit, legumes, fresh herbs, nuts etc. are beautiful and bring their own components to each meal. If you are familiar with your own food preferences like flavours and spices then this shouldn’t be an issue. A great place to start is thinking of your favourite meal in the world. Maybe it’s lasagne, avocado toast with poached eggs or a burrito. From there, identify the components that you would like to substitute e.g. beef or chorizo or eggs. You can take to the internet for quick substitution ideas or get creative! There is so much information on social media, magazines and blogs these days that there is no shortage of quick, simple plant-based recipes. One simple idea can be making a spicy, crunchy tofu to replace a chorizo burrito. Fry up some small tofu chunks in olive oil, garlic, tomato paste, honey, salt, pepper, fresh chilli flakes and paprika. Voila!

8. A plant-based lifestyle isn’t suitable for those with children.

 

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A plant-based lifestyle can be for everyone. Parents with children may need to take their children’s preferences into account before they make the transition. It’s important for everyone to have a say in their diet and how they would like to live their lives. From a logistics stand-point, it can be challenging to cook multiple meals for different members of the family. It’s not impossible, but would require some extra thinking and meticulous planning. If you are a parent and are considering leading a plant-based lifestyle for you and your entire family, the nutritional adequacy of the diet is very important. Growing children require adequate nutrition in terms of energy, protein, carbohydrate and micronutrients like iron, calcium and omega 3s to grow and develop optimally. I recommend speaking to your GP and/ or specialist dietitian to help ensure you and your family and receiving all the key nutrients to support a healthy, nutritionally adequate diet.

7. It’s easier to go plant-based with a friend or partner.

Yes! I think making any lifestyle changes on your own can be quite challenging. There is strength in numbers when it comes to transitioning to a plant-based diet. This is true on many levels but mainly down to logistics. If you are living with a partner or a friend and share the food shopping duties, it makes sense to buy the same food. You can definitely cook similar meals, with and without meat, but there is something special about cooking and eating together. If you live alone or don’t mind cooking for yourself, there should be nothing holding you back. Plant-based options in supermarkets and restaurants are more and more abundant and exciting. There are many alternatives available with gorgeous taste and nutrition profiles. Even if it is just one day or one meal per week, the transition has never been easier.

Follow Ciara here @thefakevegan_ for more! 

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