More people than ever before are choosing to cut back on or eliminate animal products from their diets for myriad reasons including health, the environment and animal welfare. In fact, over the last decade there has been a fourfold increase in plant-based eating.
Whether you have already dipped a toe into adopting a vegan diet, or are still considering making changes, it’s possible that you may feel a little overwhelmed.
That’s normal - especially as there’s so much discussion today surrounding vegan beauty products and fashion, too.
As more of our clients are starting to go vegan or plant-based, it’s important that we are well-placed to advise them on how to ensure they are getting the nutrients they need. When your client prioritises their health, it makes our role as an aesthetician smoother, paving the way for better results.
PLANT-BASED VS VEGAN
Terms such as ‘vegan’ and ‘plant-based’ are often used interchangeably to describe those choosing to cut out meat and animal products. However, these terms have evolved quickly and often mean different things to different people. It’s no surprise many of us are unsure what the difference is.
WHAT IS A VEGAN DIET?
The term ‘vegan’ was coined in 1944 by Donald Watson, founder of The Vegan Society to describe a person who avoids using animal products in all aspects of their lifestyle for ethical reasons.
Veganism is defined as a way of living that attempts to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty from food, clothing, beauty, lifestyle products and activities for ethical reasons. It excludes any animalderived foods, such as dairy, eggs, meat, fish, poultry and even honey. The main distinction to note between a vegan and plant-based diet is that a vegan diet is not necessarily a healthy one. Many processed and unhealthy foods can be suitable for a vegan diet.
WHAT IS A PLANT-BASED DIET?
In the 1980s, Dr T Colin Campbell, American biochemist introduced the world of nutrition science to the term “plant-based diet”- a low fat, high fibre, vegetable-based diet.
Plant-based diets focus far more on the health benefits of avoiding the consumption of animal products than the ethical and moral aspects, which are the driving force behind vegan diets. Plantbased diets do not necessarily eliminate all animal products, but prioritise eating mostly plants.
THINGS TO BE AWARE OF WHEN CONSIDERING A PLANT-BASED OR VEGAN DIET
Plant-based diets can be hugely beneficial to our health, however, eating to ensure you meet your nutritional requirements to prevent deficiencies can be much harder than you think. In fact, Queen’s University Belfast found in a recent study  that partly as a result of the rise in poorly planned plant-based eating, the UK ranks seventh among the ten most iodinedeficient nations.
The good news is that studies also show that properly planned vegan and plantbased diets may protect against obesity, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease, not to mention the benefits to the environment. It’s also likely that if you choose to go plant-based you’ll be adding more fibre to your diet, which can help promote digestion and gut health, support blood sugar levels, maintain energy levels and keep you feeling satiated.
Of course, it’s up to you (or your clients) whether or not you decide to opt for an entire vegan lifestyle overhaul, or choose to experiment with making your diet more plant-based some, or all, of the time.
Whatever the decision, I’ve put together some top tips for eating and planning a plant-based diet.
1 Avoid processed foods
For many who change their lifestyle to become plant-based, it can be tempting to reach for processed plant-based options we find so easily available on shelves in supermarkets these days. But, as is often the case with many supermarket ready meals, these can be full of additives, sugar and are highly processed. Where possible, try to plan ahead and opt for whole foods including lots of different coloured fruits and vegetables, grains and pulses.
2 Remember your Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is often found in foods that come from animal products, so it can be difficult to find in plant-based foods. Low B12 levels can cause depression, fatigue, hair loss and nerve damage. Some people on plantbased diets choose to take vitamin B12 as a supplement, however, it is available in some plant-based foods including nutritional yeast, fortified foods, cereals, mushrooms, and some sea vegetables. Nutritional yeast provides an umami taste – asavoriness characteristic of broths and cooked meats.
It can be used to add flavour to a variety of dishes. I often use it as an alternative to parmesan in dishes like mushroom risotto. Sea vegetables such as Nori are also widely available and make a great vitamin B12 rich snack.
3 Eat lots of iron-rich foods
A common problem with plant-based diets is the lower absorption of iron. There are lots of plant-based foods high in iron, but this is a different type to the iron found in meat. This is called heme iron, whereas the iron in plants is called non-heme iron. The former is much easier for us to absorb than the latter. Therefore, It’s important to eat a wide variety of plant-based foods high in iron content to ensure maximum absorption. Just one cup of lentils has more iron than an 8-ounce steak. They are also a good source of dietary fibre, potassium and protein. Green leafy vegetables, like spinach and kale, tofu, cashew nuts and kidney beans, are also excellent sources of iron.
4 Don’t forget your calcium
We all know calcium is important for healthy bones, but plant-based diets can be much lower in calcium compared to a diet including dairy. It’s important to avoid eating too much oxalic acid – acalcium absorption inhibitor. Oxalic acid can be found in high amounts of raw spinach, sweet potato and carrots – cooking breaks it down.
Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium, so make sure you are getting enough. It is hard to get from food alone and if you’re a vegan or a vegetarian, it can be tricky. Some people choose to take a vitamin D supplement, however foods such as orange juice, mushrooms and plant-based milks and tofu often contain vitamin D.
5 Consider Omega-3
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an essential Omega-3 fatty acid that your body cannot make, meaning it must get it from foods.
Your body needs to convert the ALA to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) so that the brain can use it. Both are Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and other seafood. These are not an option for vegan and plant-based diets, but both EPA and DHA can be found in flax, chia and walnuts. How well you convert depends on your genes, but there are sustainable plant-based supplements such as algal oil that you can take if this is the case.
6 Find tasty (and healthy) swaps for your favourites.
Some people may find it difficult to give up or cut back on former non-plant-based favourites. Missing your ice cream fix? Try blending frozen bananas with a splash of vegan plant-based milk then add your favourite topping. Or, why not try making your own vegan mayonnaise by substituting the egg for aquafaba (the leftover water in a chickpea can).
7 Make the change gradually
I often advise my clients to build plant-based days into their current routine before eating this way full time. Not only can drastic changes be difficult to maintain, but it can take time to adjust to replacing the micronutrients and calories found in many meat products. Using a food tracking app to identify and breakdown your daily macronutrient and micronutrient balance can be a useful tool to identify how best to optimise your diet for your needs.
8 Use a plant-based or vegan meal delivery service
We all lead busy lives and for many of us planning, shopping and cooking plant-based or vegan meals, while ensuring that our ultimate nutritional needs are being reached, can be a bit of a headache. It’s easy to soon feel stuck in a rut eating the same vegan meals every week. Pre-prepared healthy meal delivery or meal prep services that offer plant-based plans can be a real saving grace. There are lots of fantastic services out there, but be sure to watch out for overly processed menus and seek out those who specifically offer nutritional balance. Additionally, being perfectly portioned, meal delivery services such as these can also be a great way to tackle food waste.
At The Pure Package, clients enjoy plant-based menus tailored to their specific goals by in-house experts who know that a good vegan diet should never be anything but delicious and exciting, whilst also being balanced in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Diverse and delicious meals range from Japanese Sea Spaghetti to Mushroom Salad or Jerk Tempeh. Their sister company, Balance Box, also offers tasty, perfectly balanced, plant-based menus, with dishes such as Marinated Tofu, Tomato Ceviche Salad, and homemade Snack Bars with Cacao, Date, and Chia Seeds. The food is prepared by chefs and delivered direct to a client’s front door, available every day of the week or for three or four days of the week to fit around busy lifestyles.
Find out more about plans and services from The Pure Package and Balance Box at purepackage.com and balancebox.com
Jennifer Irvine is a food entrepreneur, author, spokesperson, and founder of The Pure Package, which she launched in 2003, having recognised that those leading a busy modern life in London often found it impossible to source and prepare the best, nutritionally balanced food. Her unique concept has developed into an awardwinning business, and, in January 2013, she successfully launched The Pure Package’s sibling, Balance Box. Jennifer is also the creator and chair of The Wellness Awards, which she established in 2016, designed to honour and celebrate the British health and wellness industry.