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What is a plant-based diet?

Did you know a plant-based diet is associated with a leaner body and a lower risk of heart disease and stroke? Find out more in this article.
Plant-based protein foods such as chickpeas and nuts
© BBC Good Food

The benefits of a plant-based diet

Did you know a plant-based diet is associated with a leaner body and a lower risk of heart disease and stroke? Eating a plant-based diet is growing in popularity – perhaps you’re vegetarian or vegan, or you know someone who is.

Protein

Protein is vital for growth and repair, so we need to ensure we’re eating protein sources regularly. Protein is found in both animal sources like meat and fish, eggs and dairy, as well as plant foods.

Plant-based proteins include:

  • beans and pulses like soya, chickpeas and lentils
  • nuts, seeds and grains.

Optimising your protein intake

There are smaller units in proteins called amino acids. There are 22 amino acids in total and eight of these are essential, which means we need to obtain them regularly in our diet. Animal sources of protein supply adequate amounts of all eight essential amino acids whereas some plant sources may be low in one or two of them.

Vary your plant sources

What this means, in practice, is that if you focus on plants for all your protein requirements you will need to vary your plant sources throughout the day and look to combine different types in some of your meals.

The combination of rice and peas in a curry is a perfect example of combining plant sources of protein to optimise your intake of amino acids.

Amino acids

Examples of some of the amino acids which may be short in a plant-based diet include lysine and methionine. This is easily addressed – beans and legumes are rich sources of lysine, whereas wheat gluten, brazil nuts, hemp and sesame seeds supply methionine.

Getting enough calories

There’s one other important element to consider when you follow a plant-based diet and that is to ensure your diet supplies an adequate number of calories for your needs.

Protein can be used as a source of calories, and your body will use it this way if it has insufficient access to carbs or fat. By consuming adequate calories from carbs and fat you’ll spare your protein intake so it will be used for its prime purpose – that of growth and repair.

If you’d like to learn more about healthy cooking, check out the full BBC Good Food online course, below.

© BBC Good Food
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Healthy Cooking Made Easy with BBC Good Food

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