How healthy is a plant based diet?

Eating a plant based diet has become more popular recently. Research has shown that consumption of foods, such as plant based milks, sausages and burgers has almost doubled over the last decade. Data was taken from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey and diets from over 15,000 individuals analysed. Between 2008 and 2019 those who reported eating plant based foods rose from 6.7% to 13.1%. The largest increases were seen in 11-39 year olds and women were more likely than men to consume plant based foods.

There are many reasons for moving towards a plant based diet such as sustainability, environmental or being concerned for animal welfare. Another reason is to help us be healthier as reducing dairy and meat in our diet can help reduce how much fat and saturated fat we consume. But are these plant based foods actually a healthier option?

Research from Queen Mary University in London compared the nutrient content of meat products such as sausages, burgers, chicken, breaded chicken, meatballs and mince with plant based alternatives from several different supermarkets and shops. Some of the main findings were:

  • Plant based meats were significantly lower in fat, saturated fat, energy density and protein compared to meat products.
  • Plant based foods were higher in fibre than meat products.
  • Salt content was higher in the plant based products, for example plant based chicken had double the amount the salt compared to regular chicken.
  • 20% of plant based and 46% or meat products were high (red on the traffic light food labelling system) in either fat, saturated fat or salt.

The conclusion from this study is that plant based meats have a better nutrient profile compared to meat equivalents but more work needs to be done to reduce salt in these products. Using the traffic light system on packaging can help us make healthier choices, whether we choose to eat meat or plant based alternatives.

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How healthy is a plant based diet?