Plant-based planet: your questions answered

PUBLISHED: 16 December 2019 | LAST UPDATED: 8 October 2020

There’s been a lot in the media about choosing a plant-based diet. But what does that mean? And why are people around the world choosing it? We spoke to our nutritionists to find out what all the fuss is about.

What is a plant-based diet?

As the name suggests, a plant-based diet is a diet that’s made up of foods that come from plants – think plenty of vegetables, fruit, grains, pulses, nuts and seeds. People adopt plant-based diets to varying degrees, from eating less meat and dairy (flexitarian), to completely cutting out animal products, including eggs and honey (vegan). 

Why are plant-based diets on the rise? 

Recent data shows that 70% of the world’s population are eating less meat and since 2010 the number of new vegan products available has increased by over 250%. 

The internet, and especially social media, has made it very easy to share information to a huge audience. This has enabled people to understand more about where their food comes from. Combine this with the popularity of health and fitness and the growing concern about climate change, and the result is an increase in people adopting plant-based diets. 

Health benefits 
Because a plant-based diet can mean eating more fruit, vegetables and legumes, it’s likely to also be high in fibre, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A, C and E, which all offer a wealth of support to the body including immune function and energy regulation. By limiting meat, dairy and eggs, a plant-based diet may also be lower in saturated fat, which has links with negative impact on heart health. 

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Written by Georgina Camfield

Georgina is a Registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr) and a qualified fitness instructor.  

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Animal welfare 
People on a plant-based diet often hope to reduce animal suffering by not eating meat and dairy, and not contributing to those industries. 

Many vegans avoid animal products altogether. For example, by not wearing wool, and only buying household products that haven’t been tested on animals. 

Environmental factor 
Animal farming uses lots of water, energy, land and grain. This has been linked to some species becoming extinct as their natural habitats are affected by deforestation. Animal farming also produces larger amounts of greenhouse gasses in comparison to that required for producing plant based foods, which contribute to global warming and climate change.

Hot topic 

Attitudes towards plant-based diets have been evolving over the past five years – they’ve become quite the hot topic, and things don’t seem to be slowing down either. 

Google searches around the topic have increased drastically around the world. The search engine uses a number out of 100 to show interest in a search term. 5 years ago, the term "plant-based" had a popularity score of just 13, but it’s increased to 100 in 2019.

There’s also been a rise in searches for the terms “vegetarian” (increase from 61 in 2014, to 91 in 2019) and “flexitarian” (increase from 13 in 2014, to 47 in 2019). 

The top countries searching for the topic in 2019 are United States, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Singapore. Could this mean that we’ll see plant-based diets on the rise in these countries in 2020? 

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Written by Thomas Rothwell

Tom is a qualified sports nutritionist and mental health first aider. 

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Plant-based planet 

For those who eat a plant-based diet, it can be difficult to keep it up when on the move. There are some countries where plant-based options are easier to come across than others. So, where are the best places to be if you’re vegan? 

  • India – If you’re visiting India, you’ll find it very easy to get plant-based options such as vegetable curries and lentil dahl. In fact, India was recently ranked the lowest consumer of meat in the world with an average of less than 4kg per person per year, compared to the US, which was ranked the highest with an average of over 100kg per person. Vegetarianism is deeply rooted in both the culture and various religions, so plant-based diets are very familiar to many. 

  • Israel – It’s estimated that Israel has the highest percentage of vegans globally; it’s even been dubbed the ‘World’s Vegan Capital’. In 2010, only 2.6% of the population were vegan or vegetarian, compared to the 5.2% who had taken on a plant-based diet by 2018. If you’re visiting Tel Aviv, you’re in luck! There are 31 purely vegan restaurants and many others offering plant-based options, like falafel and baba ghanoush. 

  • Jamaica – People belonging to the Rastafari movement follow the ital diet, which is strictly vegetarian and often vegan. It’s a diet where only natural food is eaten, free of additives, chemicals and meat.  This combined with a climate well-suited to growing a variety of fruit and vegetables, means there are plenty of plant-based options available. 

And, where is it trickier to maintain a plant-based diet? 

  • France – The French are renowned for their love of cheese and pastries which are often made with milk or butter. But France hasn’t been immune to the rise in plant-based lifestyles, and although it might take a little more research and planning, maintaining a plant-based diet should be possible. 
  • Spain – Many Spanish dishes contain meat or fish, so in more traditional areas of Spain, it might be harder to find plant-based alternatives. There are, of course, other traditional dishes like gazpacho that you can enjoy. 

Looking forward

Whilst it does seem that in certain areas of the world, maintaining a plant-based diet is a little harder, the good news is that these areas are catching up. Wherever you are, plant-based lifestyles are becoming increasingly popular and you’ll probably be seeing a lot more plant-based dishes and alternatives. With this change comes an opportunity to try something different and embrace cultures, both old and new. 

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