Why Have Plant-Based Foods Become So Popular
In recent years there has been a huge increase in plant-based and vegan foods on shelves in supermarkets around the globe. This move away from animal foods and toward a more plant-based diet appears to have been seen everywhere, but why is everyone making the move now?
Plant-based diets have been around for a few decades now, as have other non-animal food based diets, like the vegan diet, vegetarian diets, and mixed options like pescatarian and flexitarian diets. This interest in plant-based eating seemed to happen overnight and with the advent of things like 'Vegnauary,' and vegan restaurants getting Michelin Stars, the trend appears here to stay.
Many people are now choosing to eat more whole food plant-based diets because of their numerous benefits. These benefits include health benefits, ethical benefits, and environmental benefits.
We've taken a look into plant-based diets and why they're suddenly so popular and we've gathered all of our research below. To find out more about what plant-based foods are, what the benefits of a plant-based diet are, and what the different kinds of plant-based diets are, keep reading now and find out more.
What does plant-based food mean?
So, what are plant-based foods?
Plant foods are essentially any food that is derived wholly from plants. This means it does not contain any ingredient that is animal-derived. Animal foods include eggs, dairy, meat, fish and other seafood, and any broths or stocks that come from animals.
Plant-based foods use all plant-based ingredients, usually mixing grains, beans, lentils, pulses, nuts and seeds, with fruit and vegetables. Those on a plant-based diet may eat plant foods that replicate the taste and texture of meat and fish, but these products are made from a range of plant foods like soybeans, tofu, seitan, and tempeh.
Many common foods are actually plant-derived, including most bread, many dried pasta products, some sauces, oils, and many snack products too. Most people are unaware of how many ingredients in their cupboards actually qualify as plant-based.
What is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet then is a diet in which someone only eats, or mostly eats plant-based foods. The official definition of a plant-based diet does not restrict its followers from eating animal-derived products, but the idea is that those products are eaten only in small amounts. A whole food plant-based diet is rich in whole plant foods like grains, beans, lentils, pulses, nuts and seeds, as well as fruits and vegetables.
A plant-based diet is often purported to be the healthiest choice when it comes to diets and is prescribed by nutritionists to those with heart conditions, high blood pressure, and other chronic diseases. A plant-based diet is thought to help people lose weight too.
Though a plant-based diet is one specific diet, there are a few different diets that fall under the 'plant-based' umbrella. We've summarised them in the next section.
Different kinds of plant-based diets
Plant-based eating habits are not a new concept by any stretch. Indeed, there is evidence of ancient civilisations following plant-based, vegan, and vegetarian diets across cultures - though they probably didn't call it that. So, when plant-based eating was introduced as a concept in the West, there were already many different diets that fell under this umbrella. These diets are briefly summarised below.
A vegetarian diet is a very common diet and involves avoiding animal products, namely meat and fish. While most vegetarian diets reject gelatin, duck fat and other animal products like this, some will eat them. Vegetarian diets are similar to plant-based diets in that meat and fish take a backseat, however, dairy and eggs are allowed in this kind of diet.
Many vegetarian diets are rich in dairy and eggs as a way to get protein without meat and fish, indeed, many vegetarian options in restaurants star cheese, eggs, yogurt, and cream to make it more filling without the meat.
A vegan diet is much stricter than a vegetarian diet. A vegan diet involves rejecting all animal foods, including dairy and eggs, and even goes so far as to dictate lifestyle choices. Usually, vegans choose not to wear wool, leather, or fur due to the ethical implications of these fabrics and the fact they are animal-derived.
While vegetarianism is a dietary choice, veganism is more of a lifestyle choice and these choices can bleed into all parts of life, including skincare, makeup, haircare, and other lifestyle products.
Veganism and plant-based eating are usually used interchangeably but they differ quite a bit. Where veganism is a lifestyle concept and totally banishes meat, fish, dairy, eggs and any other animal-derived food products as well as any lifestyle products containing these ingredients or tested on animals, a plant-based diet is an eating choice. A plant-based diet does not banish all meat, fish, and other animal products, but simply chooses to eat them much less frequently.
A flexitarian diet is a much more relaxed diet in terms of what followers can and cannot eat. While this diet seeks to reduce the number of animal products consumed, it does not totally reject them. Someone who is a flexitarian may choose to eat meat only on weekends, or only when eating out and may eat totally vegetarian the rest of the time. Others may opt for things like 'meatless Mondays' to reduce the amount of meat they eat.
A flexitarian diet doesn't have any strict rules, other than to eat some vegetarian and vegan meals throughout the week to reduce the reliance on animal products.
Pescatarians are people who do not eat meat but still eat fish and all other animal products, like dairy and eggs. The pescatarian diet and the Mediterranean diet closely resemble each other in the prominence of fish. The Mediterranean diet, like the plant-based diet, forefront the idea of eating more plant foods over lots of meat, eggs, and dairy.
Why have plant-based diets become so popular?
Plant-based diets have come to prominence in recent years due to their incredible health benefits, as well as the ethical and environmental reasons for following them.
Plant-based diets can have a huge impact on your physical health, helping you to feel fitter and supporting a properly functioning immune system as well as good heart health. Plant-based diets are often prescribed by nutritionists and physicians to patients with a family history of heart disease and cardiovascular conditions, as well as those who are obese, suffer from high blood pressure, or who would benefit from a low-sodium diet.
A plant-based diet is also much more ethical in terms of animal welfare. With many problems in the industrial farming industry, including animal cruelty, many people choose to eat fewer animal foods in protest of the outrageous harm that comes to animals for our food.
A plant-based diet is much better for the environment than one that is heavy in meat and dairy. Both the meat and dairy industries are massive polluters, causing more harm to the environment and worsening the climate crisis, meaning more people are moving away from this kind of eating and onto more plant foods.
In addition, a plant-based diet prefers whole foods over processed foods which also cause lots of environmental damage in their production and waste, and can be damaging to human health if eaten too often and in too large quantities.
Finally, a plant-based diet can be incredibly flavourful with the addition of fresh herbs and spices and lots of different plant-based ingredients. Over the years, those who are vegan and vegetarian have had to become creative in their cooking as vegan and veggie products simply didn't exist which means that plant-based eating is some of the most flavourful food you can try. With the advent of ready-to-eat vegan products, that incredible flavour is now being pushed into pre-made products so you don’t even have to be a master cook to experience it!
There are a tonne of new vegan products that would work well in a plant-based diet and taste great, like these cinnamon maple almonds and dark chocolate covered raspberries, for sweet snacking, as well as vegan sweet options, vegan brownie mixes, and salted caramel popcorn. The innovation in vegan food has really pushed the limits of how you can experience a plant-based diet.
What are the benefits of plant foods?
Plant-based eating comes with lots of benefits, these include:
- Lowers blood pressure and risk of developing hypertension - Both high blood pressure and hypertension can increase your chances of other health conditions which is why lowering them is good for your health. Many studies have proven that those who follow plant-based or vegetarian diets tended to have a lower blood pressure than those who eat omnivorous diets.
- Supports a healthy heart - Plant-based diets tend to have much less saturated fat, as long as these diets contain lots of whole foods. This means that you're at lower risk of developing heart disease, and other cardiovascular conditions when following a whole food plant-based diet. Be aware that a plant-based diet full of lots of refined grains can be high in saturated fat and is not as healthy as a diet rich in whole grains.
- Helps prevent type 2 diabetes - A plant-based diet tends to help people to lose weight in a healthy way. By eating high quality healthy and plant-based foods, you're at lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases. Indeed, increased weight is a huge risk factor in type 2 diabetes as more fatty tissue can make cells insulin resistant and so this kind of diet can be really helpful to those at risk.
- Helps people to lose weight - As discussed above, a whole food plant-based diet can help people to lose weight because it is lower in saturated fats. Additionally, whole foods have a lower glycemic index and contain antioxidants and fibre to help fullness last for longer, helping to curb overeating.
- Lower risk of mortality - All of the benefits of a plant-based diet leads to this one. Lowering your risk of certain diseases and increasing your health effectively means you're more likely to live longer if you follow a whole food plant-based diet.
- Lowers risk of certain cancers - By eating a whole food plant-based diet, you're taking in more cancer-protective nutrients, like phytochemicals, fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals which all help to protect against cancer.
- Improves cholesterol levels - High cholesterol levels increase your chances of heart attacks and stroke by leaving fatty deposits in your bloodstream. A plant-based diet can help to lower cholesterol levels, particularly LDL cholesterol which is considered the bad kind.
- Minimises risk of a stroke - By lowering blood pressure and all other risk factors linked to a stroke, you have less chance of having a stroke. Plant-based diets lower your risk of many of these factors and therefore the risk.
- Improves brain function - There is some evidence to suggest that a plant-based diet can help to slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases and that the reason is that fruit and vegetables are high in polyphenols. These chemicals may even be able to help reverse cognitive decline.
How can I eat more plant-based
When it comes to plant-based eating, you don't need to totally cut out meat and dairy. You can slowly make the transition and start with things like meat-free meals during the week and choosing plant-based alternatives when it comes to snacks.
Look out for vegan versions of your favourite snacks, like biscuits and cookies, so that when you do crave a sugary snack, you're eating a plant-based one. You should also look out for recipes that forefront grains, like brown rice, beans like chickpeas and black beans, and lentils and ensure you're choosing healthy fats, like olive oil, over saturated fats, These ingredients can help you to feel fuller for longer and will nourish your body as you eat them.
Another great tip for making the transition to plant-based eating is to make your own food. Instead of buying pre-made sauces for pasta or curry pastes, make from scratch using spices and other ingredients you have in your pantry to ensure that they're totally plant-based. Lots of pre-made products have hidden animal-derived products, like milk powder and egg whites, that make it difficult to avoid them and so, by making you're own, you will avoid them.
Making your own food will also help to ensure you're not eating overly processed products and are sticking to whole grains and other whole foods which help with weight loss, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and provide your body with all the nutrients it needs to remain healthy.
Plant-based foods are becoming more and more popular these days due to their health benefits as well as the ethical issues and environmental concerns posed by the meat and dairy industry. A plant-based diet can help you to improve your overall health, help you to live longer, stave off chronic diseases, and reduce your risk of cancer. There is lots of evidence to suggest that a plant-based diet is best for your health.
Why not check out our full range of vegan and vegetarian products to make the switch to plant-based today.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are examples of plant-based foods?
Plant-based foods are everywhere. Everything from bread and dried pasta to fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, are all plant-based. Most unprocessed whole foods are plant-based because they are derived from plants. It is when these foods become processed, with added ingredients like milk powder and egg whites, that make them not plant-based any longer.
What are five plant-based foods?
Five popular and common plant-based foods include bread, dried pasta, rice, fruits, and vegetables. Contrary to popular belief, most of what people eat is actually plant-based and following a whole food diet usually means eating lots of plant-based foods without realising it. Processed foods may not be plant-based due to added ingredients, like milk powder and other animal-derived ingredients, and meat, fish, and dairy products are not plant-based.
Are eggs a plant-based food?
Eggs are not a plant-based food because they are an animal-derived product, however, eggs can be eaten in small quantities on a plant-based diet because a plant-based diet does not wholly reject animal products. A plant-based diet allows for animal foods to be eaten in small quantities with the larger focus being on whole plant foods. Eggs can be a part of this kind of diet if eaten in moderation.
Can you eat bread on a plant-based diets
Bread is usually plant-based as it is made of flour and water. Some kinds of bread, like milk bread, will not be plant-based as they contain animal-derived ingredients, but generally, bread is a plant-based product. Always check the label of any product you buy because many things you consider to be plant-based may not actually be if they have been processed. Many processed foods add in things like milk powder, whey powder, and egg whites, all of which come from animals.
Is peanut butter plant-based?
Yes. Peanut butter is a plant-based product and is a great way for those following a plant-based diet to get more protein and healthy fats into their diet. Lots of different nut butter products are now available with many working as great alternatives to butter and being added into foods like smoothies and baked goods. Peanut butter is a particular favourite of a lot of vegans and will be found in lots of vegan products.
Are potatoes plant-based?
Potatoes are derived wholly from plants and are, therefore, plant-based. Potatoes are used in lots of different ways, including chips, fries, baked, and mashed. Some of the different ways to cook and eat potatoes may result in them not being plant-based anymore due to the addition of animal-derived ingredients, but potatoes, in their natural state, are completely plant-based.