Header image

Going on a plant based or animal free diet

Going on a plant based or animal free diet

Thinking of going meat free or reducing your consumption of animal produce?. In this article I’ll explain the different types of vegetarian diets, their pros and cons and other interesting facts.

In order to try and make this article as complete as I can I have seemingly pointed out many negatives of a plant based / vegetarian diet. However all types of diets have both positive and negative aspects to them. Plant based diets tend to have more positive aspects than negative. It is most certainly better than the average diet of ready meals, fast food and processed junk that most people eat.

Types of vegetarian eaters

Vegan –  They will excludes all produce or products that are derived from animals, including dairy and eggs and often many will also exclude honey.

Vegetarian – They mostly excludes meat and seafood (although some may still include either of these occasionally and still identify as vegetarian). They therefore can have sub names such as a Flexitarian, who will eat some meat occasionally, Pesco-pollo vegetarian who will eat seafood and poultry and Pescatarians who will include seafood in their diet. There are also Lacto-vegetarians who will consume dairy products, Ovo-vegetarians who will include eggs only and Lacto-ovo-vegetarians who will consume both dairy products and eggs.

Plant based eater – Sometimes people on this diet will include some animal products and/or even smaller amounts of meat, seafood, diary and eggs, but also include a greater proportion from plants. Often the food consumed is as close to their natural state as possible and are usually made up of whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.

Reasons to consider going meat free or reducing animal produce consumption

For a few decades now there has been an increase in plant based foods, with more variety of food products and alternatives to animal derived ingredients. A lot of the change is due to a move towards more environmentally friendly farming, a need to reduce health issues associated with eating meat and processed foods and a general move towards people no longer wanting to eat animals and more care for animal welfare.

The decision to stop eating animal produce is going to be a personal decision that can have many reasons attached to it for the individual. Following are just a few health reasons that may apply to you or you may want to consider.

In studies carried out on those who eat plant based / vegetarian diets only and those that include meat produce, it was found that the plant eaters where generally healthier and had more energy. Now to put this into context, much of that has to do with the fact that the plant based eaters tend to eat more healthy food products in general, while the meat eaters are more likely to just eat anything, which includes processed and junk foods.

Many people feel that meat nowadays contains too many fillers, hormones, antibiotics, salt and more. Note also here that many GMO foods also contain unwanted chemicals and additions.

As mentioned eating a diet that is based more towards eating plant based foods can bring many health benefits that include,  a reduced risk of getting cancer, heart disease, diabetes and improved blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels, improvement in rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, and can also be used to help with weight management.

It is however important to reiterate that in order to get these benefits the diet should not include adding unhealthy foods high in simple carbohydrates and fats. The health benefits can be gained by reducing the consumption of unhealthy animal fats and processed food and increasing fibre and vitamins and minerals into the diet and should include more whole grains, vegetables, fruit, healthy fats from nuts and seeds for example.

Things to consider before going meat free or reducing animal produce consumption

Let’s face it, for most people any change in their diet habit is usually quite difficult to maintain. Following a diet plan where you are use to eating pretty much any type of food is easy, but once you start having to think about what you can’t and can eat then it can be difficult to stay with it, at least until you get used to it.

Firstly, many people try to go vegetarian, but often eventually revert back to eating meat based foods as they simply either miss eating meat and are used to such a diet or find the change too difficult to cope with. In fact over 80% of those who try will give up after just a few weeks.

There are a few other reasons you may not be able to stay on a vegetarian diet. Following are some things to consider before embarking on an animal free produce diet.

Even though there has been an increase in the amount of animal free food produce, you may still not have enough variety available to keep you going and many people don’t like the taste of some of these meat free alternative food products. Another issue is many of these so called alternatives have lots of additives, flavourings, fillers and other man made ingredients that may not necessarily be good for you. And on top of that, many so called meat free products can still use ingredient from animal sources in their production process to help either increase protein content or its flavour. Many of these foods products are also expensive, as the cost of production is more than that of their meat counterparts due to there being less demand and therefore a smaller market.

So what if you decide to go meat free with a more natural diet containing fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Well there a few other areas where you might struggle, that include:

Not being able to eat enough. Some people will feel like they are eating lots and struggle to get enough calories on a plant based diet and lose weight. Some people therefore also can’t maintain or gain muscle on it. This usually happens to those who mainly just eat a salad, fruit and vegetables only diet and don’t get enough rice, potatoes, quinoa, and avocado to bulk up the foods and calories. Trying to eat clean healthy foods can be difficult due to the low calorie count of many fruits and vegetables, even adding nuts and seeds can still often leave you short on enough calories. Another issue is that plant based diets includes much more fibre. This can make you feel fuller, so again if you are not planning to lose weight or very active you need to make sure you are consuming enough calories. Conversely and having said that, some people will follow a diet still low enough in fibre and other less dense foods and then feel hungry all the time and that’s when they will start adding in non healthy snacks and gain weight instead.

Changing your diet can also have a few possible side effects that include excess gas, bloating, stomach aches, and constipation. Many plant based foods contain indigestible fibre and sugars that cause such effects. And until your digestive system adapts to such as a change in your gut bacteria and microbiome, can cause these issues in some people. If you do suffer any side effects and there is no improvement you might want to look up low FODMAP diets.

Following a plant based diet is just a little bit more difficult especially if you are new to this type of diet. Time, experience and research can help fill the gaps, quite literally.

Here are some caveats to eating too much of certain foods popular amongst non meat eating / animal product diets

The following are general descriptions. More research may be needed to get a clearer picture. I haven’t gone into great detail here as each one could be a separate article in itself and beyond the scope of this article, but I have included this section here to make people aware of some potential issues.

I also want to add that it seems that no matter what you want to eat, there is some article or research that will tell you not to eat it. If you look hard enough you can find an article telling you not to eat something, just be aware and add to your knowledge and monitor your diet and reaction to certain foods.

Soy – although soy can help lower bad cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and reduce the chances of getting certain cancers, it has also been found that eating too much may have an effect on estrogen levels. Soy isoflavones mimics the estrogen hormone which has the potential to disrupt fertility, promote breast cancer, kidney stones and other kidney issues when consumed in large amounts.

Beans and legumes – packed with vitamins, minerals, protein and fibre these can be healthy and nutritious. However they can lead to various issues when consumed not just in large amounts but for some even a small to moderate amount can create issues. Some beans can interfere with the absorption of some vitamins and minerals and even interfere with some types of blood pressure medication. In some people certain beans and legumes can also cause an allergic reaction and many people also suffer from bloating, excess gas or other potential digestive/gut situations. Eating too much can also be toxic to many and therefore require proper cooking.

Nuts – which are nutritionally dense, provide many health benefits due to the various types of healthy fats such as monounsaturates, polyunsaturates and Omega-3 that the body needs for many health functions including cardiovascular health. There are also a great source of fibre and protein. However they contain high amounts of phytates and tannins which can make you bloated and give you gas as some people are unable to digest these compounds. Brazil nuts have high amounts of selenium which can produce numerous health issues. Try to eat them in moderation, about a handful of nuts a day and just 2-3 Brazil nuts at max a day. As a side note, some seeds when consumed in large amounts can also create issues with bloating, gas and even constipation, however drinking plenty of water can often help in this situation.

What you may be lacking on a vegetarian diet

Given the health benefits a plant based/vegetarian diet can provide when eating the right types of food, you should be made aware that the following are the vitamins and minerals that could potentially be lacking in such a diet if not either supplemented or the right foods are not added to your diet.

Vitamin B12 (as well as vitamins B3 and B6 to a lesser degree) – Vitamin B12 can be found in dairy and eggs, but you will need supplements and/or fortified foods if not consuming dairy or eggs. B3 can be got from peanuts, sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds, peas and brown rice. B6 from cabbage, peppers, spinach and garlic.

Vitamin D3 – This can be got from getting more sunlight, fortified foods or supplementation.

Omega 3  – if you are not consuming fish, eggs or even nuts and seeds or fortified cereals, then supplementation is probably best for most. Note: plant based omega 3 is less efficiently absorbed and used by the body.

Iron – can be found in beans, lentils, dark leafy greens such as spinach, nuts and seeds, dried fruit and fortified foods. Iron from plant based foods are often not adequately absorbed, so you will need to consume food with vitamin C to help absorb the iron, especially women as females tend to have higher iron deficiency than men do.

Zinc – can be found in tofu, beans, legumes, lentils, nuts and seeds and whole grains. Again plant based zinc is less efficiently absorbed by the body. Soaking beans and grains for a time can reduce their phytate content which can help increase Zinc absorption.

Iodine – can be found in dark leafy greens and sea plant foods such as kelp.

Calcium  – can be more difficult to get if not consuming dairy products. Add more dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, soy products and fortified foods.

Getting enough protein

Following a meat free and/or animal produce free diet does make it more difficult to add protein, especially with all the amino acids that the body needs. However it isn’t impossible and with careful planning can be achieved with great success. And if you are training for muscle gains, I can tell you it isn’t impossible to get enough protein and if you search the internet you will find many successful bodybuilders who have built great physiques on such a diet.

Protein is made up of 20 amino acids of which 9 are essential and need to be supplied to the body via food we eat, while the others can be produced by the body. Almost all plant based food are missing some of these essential amino acids and are not considered complete protein foods, so it is important to make sure that you eat a variety of foods that supply those essential amino acids. Protein helps the body grow, rebuild itself, repair damage to the body including tissue and organ health, build muscle and also for numerous chemical processes.

Do I need to combine foods for complete protein?

The easiest way to get the 9 essential amino acids is to include dairy, eggs or even fish, although soybeans, buckwheat and quinoa do also have these amino acids. However you may need to look into getting more if you don’t consume any animal products. You will need to add soy based foods like tofu, tempeh, edamane, soy nuts and milk. If you can’t get enough soy in your diet or you have issues with consuming soy, you will need to research all the other plant based foods and add the different foods to your diet to supply a good mix of all 9 essential amino acids. Note you do not need to combine these foods in one meal, but can consume these foods at different times or even over a few days as the body can store these amino acids for use later. So strictly speaking you do not need to combine foods but just need to ensure you get all the amino acids the body requires over a few days.

To help you get more protein in your diet:

Best non animal sources – soybeans, tempeh, tofu, edamane, beans, legumes, lentils, quinoa, buckwheat, nuts and seeds

Supplements – whey, casein, egg, pea, hemp, rice, soy and hybrid/mixed plant powders.

For building muscle the BCAA leucine is important and can be found mostly in soy, brown rice, lentils and pumpkin seeds. While we are talking about building muscle then it is also worth noting that a plant based diet could also leave you short of creatine monohydrate, which you will need to get from supplementation, which while mainly consumed by us humans from animals is available as a supplement that is usually produced as an animal free product (check labels etc).

Further advice

As you can see there are a few things to consider when going on an animal free product diet and it is still easy to eat unhealthy following an animal free diet when not properly planned. If you decide you wish to give it a go, do not replaced animal based foods with unhealthy bad foods such as cakes, biscuits, crisps, sweets, fried foods and chips, in fact any junk or processed foods should be kept to a minimum on any healthy diet. Also watch out for drinks that have high calories and may have high sugar and/or salt content. Another area to watch out for is consuming too much white bread/flour products, foods with too many artificial flavourings and additives and many other unnatural man made additions that can also be found in pre made packaged food labeled for vegetarians. And finally don’t add unhealthy sauces to make the foods taste nicer, find natural food flavourings such as herbs, spices and natural honey etc.

Find alternatives you like. There are numerous vegetarian alternatives for milk, chocolate, eggs and meat, but read the labels.

Make sure you don’t fall short on certain nutrients and monitor your body’s reaction to a change in your diet.

However, if after reading this you decide that going vegan or excluding meat or animal produce isn’t for you, the best alternative is to simply replace some of the non essential/unhealthy type foods you may be consuming with more fruit and vegetables.

Eating a balanced well thought out diet is key to healthy living. Including sources of food that cover a wide area to give the body the nutrients it needs and excluding the food products that are not is ideal. It’s generally not difficult to understand, but often very difficult to actually physically do, so if you are looking to create a healthier lifestyle and if you really wanted, you could still eat a meat based diet and still eat healthy. You just need to pick the right foods (see my nutritional plan).