The Planetary Diet Explained

This week some new research has emerged which has developed a new ‘diet’ to save lives whilst making a conscious effort to look after the planet too. The UK population is currently at 7bn and is expected to climb to 10bn by 2050. At the rate we’re eating now scientists are questioning how our food could stretch to feed the this population growth. As a result, The Planetary diet is set to be able to support this expected population growth too.

But what exactly is this diet and what does it entail?

The diet (also referred to as a type of flexitarian diet) encourages a reduction in meat and dairy consumption and an increase in plant-based foods such as beans, pulses, nuts and seeds. A reduction means consuming red meat no more than once per month, chicken and fish a few times per week and then basing the rest of your meals around plants.

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So what does this mean for your health?

If done properly (and by that I mean with consideration around the rest of your diet) then this shouldn’t be a problem. Although if one reduces meat and dairy with no understanding of the nutrients their at risk of deficiency then they might not be obtaining optimal health.

Below I’ve listed the key nutrients to be aware of when reducing your red meat and dairy consumption and where else you can get them from.

Calcium – this is often the one which worries people the most as calcium is often associated with dairy. You can obtain enough calcium with fortified nut milks, tofu, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds. Although it’s essential that you have enough vitamin D too. Without vitamin D calcium cannot be absorbed and utilised. The UK government guidelines suggest that we should be supplementing during the winter months.

Iron – essential for transporting oxygen around the body. People often argue that there’s more iron in broccoli than steak. The iron in broccoli is considerably less available for the body than that found in meat. Therefore ensure that you’re consuming good quality meat once per month and combine your green leafy vegetables with a source of vitamin C such as lemon to increase absorption. Utilise oats, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds for their iron too. Avoid consuming tea and coffee with your meals as the tannins can reduce the absorption of iron.

B12 – B12 is essential for metabolism although if you’re consuming enough chicken, fish and some eggs then this shouldn’t be too much of a problem for you.

Vitamin D – Mainly found in milk, although it’s incredibly difficult to get from the diet alone.  As mentioned above we should all be supplementing with Vitamin D in the winter months in the UK (although please seek advice if you’re on other medication).

Iodine – also found in milk and vital for thyroid function. Although Iodine can also be found in white fish. I recommend consuming 1-2 portions weekly. The daily allowance is 28g. I’d suggest eating 2 portions of 98g instead.

So whilst the diet is exciting it’s important to be aware of potential losses. Make sure you’ve got all areas covered by replacing potential nutrient losses with alternative sources.

Fibre: Starting From The Beginning

I have discussed fibre before, but since it’s been in the news again this week it appears it isn’t going away. So in this week’s article I will be discussing what fibre is, why it’s important and how you can get enough (the recommended 30g.d although most of the population are just hitting 18g) into your diet.

Fibre is an indigestible type of carbohydrate which can be split into two forms; soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre absorbs water to create gel like textures. Soluble fibre helps to soften stools and passes through the GI tract more easily. It helps to release sugar more slowly meaning you’re less likely to experience sugar highs and crashes and is set to keep you fuller for longer.

Insoluble fibre is what’s known as the roughage. It’s often found in stalks and skins of fruits and vegetables along side nuts and seeds. It doesn’t absorb water although it does add bulk to stools.

Whilst it’s important to know what fibre is you’re likely also wondering why it’s so essential and how you can ensure you’re consuming adequate amounts.

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1.       Lowers cholesterol
Foods high in beta-glucans (a type of dietary fibre) have been shown to lower cholesterol by binding to it to prevent it being absorbed. These foods include: barley, oats and wholegrains.

2.       Weight management
As fibre helps keep you fuller for longer research has shown that a higher fibre diet has been associated with increased weight loss and sustainability of weight loss.

3.       Blood sugar control
Fibre helps to slow the release of sugar into the blood stream and therefore a high fibre diet can help to prevent large spikes and crashes in blood sugar. Consequently a high fibre diet may help to reduce the risk of diabetes.

4.       Improved digestive health
Fibre contributes to a healthier gut microbiome as prebiotic fibres (sources include: chickpeas, leeks, garlic, onions and bananas) help to feed the good bacteria in the gut.

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Hopefully by now you’re convinced that fibre is a key component to overall health and not something which you should be scrimping on. So here are my top tips for increasing your fibre intake:

1.       Add one portion of fruit and vegetables into your daily diet until you’re hitting 5-aday. There’s no need to stop there though. Once you consistently hit your 5-aday start ensuring that half of every meal is loaded with vegetables. Variety is key! Different vegetables contain a range of micronutrients and prebiotic fibres to help support a healthy gut function.

2.       Opt for fibrous vegetables e.g. broccoli, artichoke, Brussel sprouts, cabbage and green beans.

3.       Incorporate more beans and pulses into your cooking. Add them to soups, stews and curries. Snacking on roasted beans and peas are also a great way to increase your fibre intake.

4.       Nuts and seeds make for great snacks too although be aware of portion size as they’re easily overdone!

5.       Switch your white refined carbohydrates for wholegrain varieties.

Everything You Need To Know For Veganuary ...

Veganuary

Unless you’re still yet to surface from New Year’s Eve then I’m sure you’re aware of the January campaign Veganuary. For those of you who might have heard the term but may still be a little unsure, essentially Veganuary is a movement which encourages individuals to commit to go vegan for the month of January. Whilst in theory this may seem pretty harmless it’s important that you’re given a few pointers before going in on a full-blown, plant-based diet.

Before we go any further… I have two disclaimers:

a)       You can be healthy on a vegan diet although a vegan diet isn’t necessarily healthier.
b)      This article is not here to encourage or discourage you one way or another. It’s simply here to inform you.

There seems to be a common misconception that because something is vegan this automatically means it’s healthy. Chips are vegan, soya nuggets are vegan, sugar is vegan… You see where I’m going with this. The point is vegan doesn’t necessarily = health. As a result, I urge you all to consider the reasons why you’re interested in going vegan. Animal welfare and environmental reasons are two very valid reasons. On the other hand, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going vegan solely for health reasons. Here’s why:

The vegan diet poses the risk of various nutrient deficiencies – whilst some are more difficult to manage without supplementation, others are highly manageable given the knowledge.

So what nutrients should we be aware of?  

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Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is predominantly found in meat, fish and animal products. It’s essential for extracting other nutrients from foods through metabolism and energy production. In the past I’ve heard the argument that marmite and nutritional yeast are great sources on a vegan diet. In reality, however, there’s no way you’ll be eating enough of either of these foods to obtain sufficient B12. Therefore, you should be looking to supplement. As with any supplements though you should consult a nutritionist for more personalised advice as supplements can interfere with other medications.

Vitamin D

AKA the summer hormone (yes, did you know vitamin D is technically a hormone although we refer to it as a vitamin as it’s a ‘vital amine’ meaning we cannot synthesise it without the sun or sources from the diet), vitamin D plays a key role in mood and bone health. Main sources include salmon, eggs and milk. To be honest, most of us in the UK should be supplementing with this vitamin in the winter months, regardless of whether we’re on a vegan diet.

Iron

Iron is essential for transporting oxygen around the body and maintaining energy throughout the day. This is an interesting one as there are a number of plant-based sources of iron. The problem is that plant sources of iron are not absorbed as well as animal sources meaning the body can’t utilise them to the same degree. As a result, it’s recommended to combine a source of plant-based iron (e.g. nuts, green leafy vegetables, seeds, tofu, beans etc.) with a source of vitamin C e.g. lemon juice to help aid the absorption of the iron.

Calcium

Many of us grow up being told we should drink our milk for the calcium as it’s good for our bones. Calcium is essential for bone health throughout life specifically for children and menopausal/ post-menopausal women as this is when their oestrogen levels drop. Adequate calcium is possible to obtain on a plant-based diet as long as you are aware of the sources and can ensure you’re consuming enough. Green leafy vegetables, almonds (almond butter), tahini and fortified milks are a great way to load up on calcium on a vegan diet.

Omega-3

This is an interesting one. Omega-3 is primarily essential for brain health. There are many plant sources which contain a type of omega 3 called ALA. This form is inactive and must be combined into EPA and DHA (forms found in animal sources) before it can be used. As a result, throughout the conversion process the body loses a large amount of omega-3. Some individuals suggest that you should supplement with omega-3 on a plant-based diet to ensure adequate intakes although, again, I recommend speaking to a nutritionist for more specific advice.

There you have the low down on a vegan diet and the key nutrients you need to be aware of when it comes to making the transition. Please also remember the message at the beginning of this article: make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and adopting a vegan diet is not a cause for weight loss (as is commonly believed).