Tips for transitioning to a plant-based diet


 Joanne Kwok, in-house nutritionist at John Bell & Croyden, on the benefits of turning Veganuary into a long-term lifestyle change

Across the world, millions of people have spent the past month experimenting with plant-based diets as part of the annual ritual of ‘Veganuary’: part of a wider increase in awareness of the benefits associated with veganism. According to The Vegan Society, the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled between 2014 and 2019. By now, at least half of us know someone who is vegan. Even those who haven’t transitioned into a fully vegan lifestyle have often made changes, with over half of Brits adopting vegan buying behaviours such as purchasing vegan products or seeking out cruelty-free toiletries.

The impact of a vegan diet on greenhouse gas emissions and health can be profound. However, is going vegan as easy and healthy as we would like to think? How do you turn it into a lifestyle rather than just a month-long event? Over to Joanne Kwok, an in-house dietitian and nutritionist at John Bell & Croyden, the Harley Street Medical Area’s historic pharmacy.

Why is a plant-based diet good for you?
Most vegetables are high in dietary fibre which helps regulate our blood sugar and makes us feel fuller longer (so less snacking involved!). Eating enough fibre also helps with digestion and prevents constipation. Red meat and processed meats such as sausages are high in saturated fat. Eating too much saturated fat increases blood cholesterol, and hence increases the risk of heart conditions and stroke. A diet rich in fibre and limited in saturated fat is associated with lower risks of some medical conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart conditions, stroke, and some cancers such as colorectal cancer.

What are some of the simple strategies to help transition to a plant-based diet?
If you do eat meat, you will just need to find plant-based protein or vegetarian protein and substitute that with your meat, poultry or fish. For example, we can modify a beef lasagne recipe to a plant-based one by swapping the beef mince for plant protein such as lentils and chickpeas and the béchamel sauce for a non-dairy option. All other ingredients remain the same, so you can still enjoy a classic lasagne—this time with a twist.

Should it be a slow transition?
It can be. You don’t have to necessarily follow a plant-based diet for all your meals at first. Perhaps you could start with plant-based Mondays, or maybe plant-based dinners while allowing yourself to enjoy your usual lunch routines. You can then increase these to become completely plant-based and adopt the vegan diet as a whole.

How do you make sure you have all the protein you need?
There are many protein-rich foods besides meat! This includes lentils and beans, tofu, eggs, seeds, nuts and nut butters. Some wholegrains are also high in protein, including quinoa, buckwheat, spelt and amaranth. Find the protein that best suits your taste and build your meals around it.