Your cheese in your toastie is no longer just cheese. That meat in your burger is not just meat. Your pizza base is not just bread. Even your scrambled eggs aren’t just scrambled eggs. No, that cheese is actually cashews, your beef is black bean and quinoa, your bread is cauliflower, and your eggs are tofu. And guess what, you didn’t even know it.
Formerly mocked by society for being “weird”, the plant-based movement has now become mainstream, so much so that it’s considered “weird” if a café doesn’t offer 20 different sorts of plant-based milks or if a restaurant doesn’t completely redesign their menu to cater for vegans.
But although living the plant-based life looks like another case of millennial-syndrome, there are actually a myriad of scientifically proven health benefits associated with ditching meat – and dietitian and nutritionist Rebecca Gawthorne, can vouch for this firsthand.
“I grew up with a lot of meat and dairy in my eating, but made the decision with my husband a few years back that we wanted to start incorporating more plant foods into our eating,” Gawthorne explains to co-hosts Dr Andrew Rochford and Maz Compton on the latest episode of Healthy-ish ‘Should we all be following a plant-based diet?’
Shortly after reducing her meat intake and increasing her plant consumption, Gawthorne experienced something she never expected.
“I felt that I had a lot more energy,” the dietitian adds. “I always was quite an energetic person especially growing up as a child, but it was just like this whole new level and it’s kind of hard to explain, but it was a whole other level of energy.”
Gawthorne, who classifies herself as a pescatarian (whereby she sometimes eats fish and eggs, but chooses not to eat meat, poultry, and dairy) says you don’t have to become a full-flown vegan to reap the health benefits associated with following a plant-based diet.
“I think we can definitely have some [meat] in there, but as a nation we should be consuming less than what we are. So we tend to overconsume red meat and dairy, and I think we can be having a little less of those in there, and more of our healthy plant-based options instead, and that’s going to have better health outcomes for us in the long run.”
This is the main message she encourages to her 159,000 Instagram followers: no foods are out of bounds if you’re eating a balanced diet with a heavy focus on vegetables and fruits.
Gawthorne, who goes by the Instagram handle @nourishnaturally, also notes that serving sizes need to be taken into consideration when consuming animal products.
“The key is having less [meat] overall, and also looking at your portion sizes as well, because I think in Australia we have quite big portion sizes especially when it comes to our meat.”
And moving towards a plant-based diet isn’t as difficult (or expensive) as it sounds.
“I think the key is finding what you like, so go and try different vegetables,” she explains.
“Maybe each week when you go food shopping, buy a new vegetable or fruit that you’ve never tried before. Try it a couple of times in different ways, see if you like it. If you don’t, don’t worry, try another one. Find out what you like and what works for you, because ultimately that’s what you’re going to stick to.”
It can be little tweaks like adding more veggies into your pasta sauce or swapping out one packaged food a week for a piece of fruit – these little changes will become a lot easier overtime.
The registered dietitian advises you to take advantage of fresh produce when it’s in season, stock up on frozen vegetables for a cheaper alternative, and maybe think twice before picking up a packaged food simply because it has the word “healthy” or “vegan” splashed across it.
“I think deep down a lot of people know that they are your sometimes foods,” she says of packaged health foods.
The key is learning how to read the ingredients list: “You can look at the ingredients list and if you can understand the foods and what’s on there, that’s key. You don’t want lots of words on there that you have no idea what they mean.”
Bottom line: fresh will always be best, and you might as well make the most of the 20,000 different edible plants and 2,000 types of fruit around the world (yep, true fact).
If you’re still a little confused deciphering between the good and bad foods, or just need some guidance as to how you can slowly incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet, listen to episode 45 of our podcast Healthy-ish above, at at Apple iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.