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Top Ten Questions About a Plant Based Diet Answered


Article by Keith Squires

vegan diet questions answered image

Keith Squires has been touring Australia to launch his new book, Cooking with Love. He has put together the top ten questions he has been asked about a plant based diet.

Millions of people are eating more plant based foods or becoming vegan. It is the biggest food trend at the moment. The numbers of vegans have doubled in just a few years and are set to rise further still. It’s not just a trend it’s a food revolution. Restaurants, food chains and manufacturers are rushing to keep up.

It’s particularly popular with the younger generation who are getting lots of information and recipes from social media. Also the over 50’s are looking for natural ways too to boost their health and vitality.

I have been teaching vegetarian, vegan and plant based cooking in the UK, Europe and India for 30 years. In my experience lots of people want to change but find the practicalities difficult.

That is why we wrote a book ‘Cooking with Love’ full of essential info about plant based eating. I am also passionate about doing cookery demos and videos so people can see how simple it is. I love cooking with people too and I find that is the best way to learn. After making a few simple plant based meals their confidence goes up and they start to enjoy it. That can last for ever.

cooking with love vegan cook book image

As I travel around the world I am nearly always asked the same questions about vegan, vegetarian and plant based foods. These are my top 10 questions and answers.

Top 10 questions about a vegan diet

How do I get enough protein?

What fats and oils should I use?

Is it a healthy and balanced diet?

Is it expensive?

Will I put on weight?

What can I use to replace the meat?

Will it take a long time to prepare?

Is it all rabbit food?

Is it good for the environment?

Will it harm the rural economy?

What happens to all the farm and domestic animals?

How do I get enough protein?

I notice that when people eat lots of processed and junk foods they don’t seem to be concerned about their health that much! They may be overweight on medication but it is all treated as normal. But the thought of having a healthy meal without meat suddenly everyone starts to worry!

The first question is always will I get enough protein? Or where is the protein in a vegan meal and is it a complete protein?

Luckily its really simple to answer this question. There is actually plenty of protein in plant based foods. Particularly in pulses (beans and lentils) seeds, nuts, whole grains and even in vegetables.

The thing to remember is that in themselves they are not a complete proteins. In fact, some of the amino acids (the component parts of protein) can be in short supply. Mother nature has made it easy though; you can simply combine them. When combined, grains, seeds, nuts and pulses form complete proteins, and provide the right balance of amino acids for our needs. It’s like a lock and key what is deficient in one group is abundant in the other.

With this you also get a great combination of protein and carbohydrates. That is also high in fibre and low in fat. This is the basis of plant-based nutrition and creates a hearty feast.

This nothing new it is the basic diet of a lot of cultures. For example ‘rice and lentils’ in India, ‘corn and beans’ in the Americas, ‘pitta bread and hummus’ in the Middle East and our very own Australian ‘baked beans on toast’.

The good news is you don’t need a degree in nutrition to eat a healthy plant based diet. This combination of grains and pulses provides a really good balance of protein and carbohydrate. Every mum or dad knows that toast on its own is not a meal. Neither is a plate of baked beans but put them together and it is.

Using nuts and seeds as a vegetable protein source has the added benefit of providing omega-3 essential fatty acids, which can be deficient in a lot of Western diets. Again, nuts and seeds make a complete protein when mixed with pulses and/or grains. Using all three together is a sort of ‘belt and braces’ approach.

What fats and oils should I use?

 

The basic combo of pulses (beans and lentils) and grains gives you a great balance of protein and carbohydrate. The other thing to consider is the oils. We seem to have almost concluded now that all fats are bad for us. But our body has as much fat as protein. Fat is essential for our cell membranes, nervous system and brain. Luckily these are present in healthy nuts and seeds.

We humans can create fatty acids out of the sugars and oils that we eat. But there are two fatty acids that we can’t make ourselves. These are the omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids. They are called ‘essential’ because it’s essential that we include them in our diet.

Most of us are deficient in omega-3. It is a very volatile oil that goes off quickly so doesn’t tend to be present in foods we buy off the shelf. One of the best sources is linseeds which have 50% omega-3 oil. It’s best to grind the seeds fresh at home. Or buy a good quality linseed oil that is stored in the fridge.

Generally the best oils are in the fresh nuts and seeds in their shells. This is natures perfect storage system. You can eat them raw but grinding or soaking may make them easier to digest.

Once oils are extracted they deteriorate due to heat light and air. So oils need to be as fresh as possible with a minimum of processing. So go for raw or virgin cold pressed oils. Don’t buy cheap refined oils its worth paying the extra for good quality oils. Along with protein these are the building blocks of our body. We wouldn’t give a builder bad materials and still expect them to do a good job!

Extra virgin olive oil is great for light cooking. Try to avoid letting it get too hot in the pan as this damages the fatty acids. It’s best to put any vegetables in first, then add the oil. The moisture in the vegetables helps control the temperature in the pan.

Saturated fats are more stable and better for serious cooking where you need more heat. For example when cooking whole spices. One of the best is coconut oil it has short fatty acid chains, making it healthier and easier to digest.

As much as possible keep other oils in the fridge and eat them raw as a dressing on your food. I use them as a sort of table sauce over my meal. It moistens the food and on the plate it is not hot enough to damage it.

Is it a healthy and balanced diet?

A good plant based diet is natural and healthy but that doesn’t mean all vegan foods are. For example chips, chocolate, tomato sauce, jam, sugar and biscuits are often vegan!

Once you have understood the basics of protein combining and good fats. The secret lies in the name ‘plant based’ foods. The first thing to do is put vegetables centre stage. Even if you are not vegetarian or vegan you can start by making the meat or fish the side dish.

The great thing about vegetables is that they are colourful. This makes the food look great but it attracts us for a reason. The green colour comes from chlorophyll the magic pigment that converts CO2 to oxygen. It is like the blood of the plant world and is almost identical to our own blood cells. Which have iron instead of magnesium at the centre of the molecule. The oranges of carrots and squash are the carotenoids which are natures antioxidants. The purples and reds even more phytonutrients and minerals. One saying is ‘eat a rainbow’ then you get an amazing balance of these plant based foods.

As a guide half your plate can be veg. Either as a fresh salad with a wonderful dressing, or deliciously roasted, steamed or stir fried. If you can learn to savour and enjoy the natural flavours of vegetables. Which can be easily enhanced with herbs, spices and simple dressings and sauces.

All that is missing is the filling energy rich part. Natural grains like rice, millet, barley or wheat fill the gap. Or grain like seeds including quinoa or buckwheat. They are also part of our protein combo with the pulses.

For a protein rich meal without beans or lentils. Then just have more nuts and seeds either raw, ground or lightly toasted.

Is it good for the environment?

If you are worried about the environment then eating a more plant-based diet is one of the best things you can do.

Beans and lentils in particular are a fantastic food because they produce a lot of food from a small area of land. They are high in protein and fibre and low in fat. Legume plants like these actually fix nitrogen and fertilise the soil. Like all plants they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen.

Plants produce about 10 times more food for humans per acre than if they are grown to feed animals. This means less land would be needed to feed a hungry world.

Approximately 80% of the agricultural land in the world is to produce animal products. Either as grazing or crops or to produce animal feed. This only creates 18% of our food calories. The remaining 80% of our food calories come from all the grains and vegetables we eat from only 20% of the land.

An Oxford University study looked at this in detail. It concluded that if most people went 80 to 90% plant based. Not only would they be a lot healthier but we would only need ¼ of the agricultural land we use at present.

Politicians and world leaders are searching for solutions. To obesity and health, food security, poverty, ecology and wildlife, population growth, water shortages.

What if all these could be solved not by some massive technological advance. But one simple lifestyle change. Just eating more healthy plant based foods.

We may need our car to go to work and not want to give up our holidays to exotic countries. We may need to heat and light our homes—all of these things increase our carbon footprint. But one thing we can do to help the planet is to change our own diets to a more plant-based one.

Eating more plant-based food is the fastest, cheapest and healthiest way to reduce your environmental footprint and you can start anytime.

Is it expensive?

Wholefoods aren’t just better for the environment, they don’t  cost the earth in another way. There’s a misconception that healthy food is expensive. That only the middle-class or rich people can afford it. That people on low incomes have no choice but to eat the cheapest and processed foods from discount supermarkets.

The healthy diets based on pulses, grains and vegetables are very cheap. Lentils, rice and split peas can cost as little as $1 or £2 a kilo. When cooked both expand and double or triple in mass making the real cost less than 50c per Kg! The other main ingredients are seasonal vegetables which are also great value at around $4 or $5 per kilo. We have calculated that these meals work out at about $1 a portion which is cheaper than processed foods like burgers and frozen chips which cost at least $2 a meal. Takeaway food is more like $5 to $10 a person. So this hearty home cooking can save you a packet.

You can save a lot of money on food even halving your weekly grocery. We have also created a 7 day plan. It is designed in a way that allows you to take it to work. This saves you having to buy a sandwich or takeaway which would otherwise cost you $10 plus $3 on a hot drink. If you add the cost of a snack later then you could be spending $20 a day. This really mounts up over the month to $600 or more.

Remember this is your hard earned cash after tax. With extra saving on groceries my meal plan could give you the equivalent of a bonus of over $1000 a month or a $12,000 a year wage rise!

A friend of mine from Cheshire in the UK has saved nearly £1,000 a month by making my one-pot recipes, taking it into work the next day along with her own drinks, giving up takeaways and cafe lunches and simplifying her supermarket shopping.

Will I put on weight?

After just a few days on a healthy plant based diet. There are three things that most people tell me. The first is that minor ailments like rashes or skin problems seem to get better on their own. Also many say they have more energy and feel fresher and find it easier to get up in the morning.

But nearly everyone says they lose weight. Most people get overweight without trying. They don’t eat that much and feel hungry most of the time but still put on weight! The great thing about plant based food is that there is a lot of fibre which makes you feel full. It is nutritious and this reduces cravings. You can actually eat more and weigh less.

Most people worry about their weight and feel guilty about treating themselves or just eating till they feel full. The great thing about plant based foods is you can eat until you are full and you won’t get overweight.

Instead of worrying you can just focus on enjoying good food. In many Asian countries you see people eating a hearty meal and really enjoying it. No one is counting calories and most people are trim. This is because traditional Asian food has lots of fresh vegetables, grains, plant based proteins and a smaller amount of meat or fish.

What can I use to replace the meat?

There are a huge amount of vegan meat replacements these days. This makes it easy to begin to change. It is also convenient if you don’t have much time. It is of course a nice treat from time to time.

It can be disappointing as fake bacon or sausages may not live up to its names. Although some are just as good if not better than the real thing.

The best thing is not to try and replace the meat. There are lots of styles of cooking that were designed to be plant based. Traditional one pot stews and soups are a good place to start.

Every locality has its own version. There is Scotch Broth with lots of root vegetables, kale and pearl barley with lentils as the plant based protein. Lobscouse from Liverpool in the UK again with lots of vegetables and split peas. Beany hotpots and casseroles. These can be served with rice or healthy bread to make a hearty meal.

Then there is a whole world of plant based food. Particularly traditional Indian food which is mainly vegan anyway. They only use dairy products which can be easy substituted with the vegan alternatives.

There are great tofu and bean dishes in Chinese and Asian styles of cooking.

Will it take a long time to prepare?

Some while back I can to the conclusion that simple rustic food is the best. This is not a new discovery the ancient Romans and Greeks also recommended that simple frugal food kept you healthy. Frugal comes from the latin fruges which simply means fruit. So it’s referring to the ‘fruits of the earth’ like grains, vegetables, seeds and pulses. It was noted that the rich food of the wealthy created the same healthy problems we see today. Obesity, heart disease and other complications.

The great news is these rustic dishes are easy to prepare. Just use the vegetables in season throw then into a big pot let them simmer with the grains and pulses. Throw together a salad with a simple dressing. Some nice bread or rice.

There are lots of time saving devices you can use. Soup makers slow cookers even intelligent pressure cookers you can programme so everything is perfectly cooked as you come through the door.

Is it all rabbit food?

A favourite day out for me and my family is to go a feed the animals. At the duck pond, urban farm or conservation centre. Apart from the carnivorous animals like tigers or lions they are all given really healthy plant based foods. I went to my favourite park the other day to feed the birds. There was a big sign with pictures of white bread, pizza, chips and burgers crossed through and a health warning saying that these foods are bad for the birds.

This was followed by a list of good foods: whole grains, seeds and leafy vegetables—all great plant-based foods. This is more or less what I’m recommending.

I was saddened to see that nearly everyone around me was filling up on processed foods (with the swans looking on jealously now they’re banned from such treats).

It’s funny that we seem more concerned with the health of the swans, ducks and seagulls than we are about our own. In reality we are not so different from them—seeds, vegetables and whole grains are better for us too!

Will it harm the rural economy?

Plant based food is for everyone vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians and everyone else. Even the most dedicated meat eater probably eats 50% plant based foods even if it’s just the pie crust, chips and white bread. A bit of parsley always seems to get in there too.

We are just saying eat more of it. Even if everyone was 90% plant based which some experts are recommending then there would still be a demand for all the foods we eat now.

If you don’t want to be vegan then its better to eat less, but good quality produce. The milk or cheese from animals fed on grass is much better than grain fed mass produced produce. So hopefully that would stimulate the rural economy with quality local produce and it would attract a higher price. Also there would be a larger demand for vegetables and food for human consumption.

What happens to all the farm and domestic animals?

Some people worry that if so many people go plant based what would happen to all the farm animals. The likelihood is that that there will still be a demand for good quality produce rather than industrialised mass produced food many people eat now.

In parts of India dairy products are still produced without harm to animals. That is hard to believe in this day and age. In Gujarat India it is totally illegal to kill or export cows yet they have a thriving dairy industry. Cows have to looked after till they die naturally. Either on the farms or by charitable organisations. Male cows are kept too used on the farm or live in sanctuaries. Calves are not taken from their mothers and only the excess used for human consumption.

It costs more but it’s the law so there is no choice and why do we expect to pay less for milk than bottled water? Industrial farming makes it artificially cheap meaning we eat too much.

I have vegetarian friends in the UK who are happy to pay much more for such products. Paying up to 4 or 5 times more the normal cost. I am not a farmer but I think there is possibly a business model there for someone.

 

Keith Squires

www.keithonfood.com

www.facebook.com/keithonfood

 

 

Ceri Wheeldon

Ceri is Founder and Editor of Fabafterfifty.co.uk She is a frequent speaker at events and in the media on topics related to women over 50 , including style and living agelessly. With 20+ years experience as a headhunter Ceri also now helps support those looking to extend their working lives.

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