It’s a fact that more of us are choosing a plant-based diet with the Vegan Society predicting 60 per cent of the world’s population will ditch meat by 2040. While eating more veggies is undoubtedly good for us, some plant-based alternatives may not be as healthy as we think they are.
Jason describes himself as a pescatarian and eats sustainably sourced fish, but he was a vegan for over seven years. While fruit and vegetables make up the vast majority of what he consumes, he believes it’s important not to be blindsided by ‘vegan-friendly’ marketing when shopping. Some plant-based options are less than virtuous in their nutritional value and environmental impact.
“We are becoming more conscious about plant-based eating,” says Jason, “and health documentaries such as The Game Changers have tipped the balance. Veganism has become a huge movement and I am a big fan of anything that encourages people to eat more plants, but it’s not as simple as that. I often meet vegans and vegetarians who haven’t eaten a vegetable in years and stick to a carb-heavy diet. Many rely on a grain-based diet and choose potatoes as their staple ‘veggie’, but they’ve not got much nutritional value once they are fried as chips!
“There are a number of mass-market, plant-based brands in the US and UK which have made inroads into consumers’ supermarket spend, but if you look carefully at some of the ingredients in their meat-free products, they can be less than healthy. Although made without animal products, many of these mass-produced, plant-based dishes are loaded with salt and saturated fat, highly processed and some allegedly contain GMOs. If you are serious about plant-based eating, a homemade mushroom burger is better than many vegan ‘meat’ substitutes.
“There’s no question a plant-based diet can be extremely healthy and if that is your motivation for removing meat from your diet, 50–70 per cent of your daily intake should come from produce in a juice, blend, soup or salad. It might be controversial, but if you are concerned about what you are eating, I would argue it is better to choose a piece of grass-fed beef or corn-fed chicken from a known source than a highly processed meat substitute in a bun. In many plant-based ‘meats’, you will find horrendous fillers including white, refined breadcrumbs, so how is it better than well-reared meat?
“If you are choosing a vegan diet for ethical reasons, you still need to up your plant intake with natural ingredients such as avocado, banana and broccoli. I’m a big advocate of almond milk, but overproduction is damaging the environment and killing the bees – just a small percentage is made at home, yet it’s easy to prepare, thicker and nicer than processed products so think about the impact your plant-based choices make.
“Without question, we are coming back to locally grown food as the solution to many of these problems. In my view, intelligent eating is far more important than simply choosing a label without considering what it really means – organic and Fairtrade are terms to explain natural practices. The label is the least interesting part, it’s about what’s best for your body and the planet.”