Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about eating plant-based

Plant-based living

The plant-based diet – if centred largely around whole foods – has been shown to be a very nutritious way of eating, with numerous studies boasting its health benefits.

Currently, 90% of Australians (and even 99% of kids under 18) do not eat enough vegetables. With animal-based proteins occupying such a hefty amount of our calorie intake, frankly it's difficult to fit enough vegetables in our diets, too. That's why many people find that after switching to a plant-based diet, they are naturally eating heaps more vegetables – because they simply have the caloric space for it now. And such a plant-rich diet is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, lower risk of diabetes, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and an increased life expectancy – all quite promising indications of a most nutritious diet!

For optimal nutrition, it's all about variety. Aim to fill your plate with a rainbow of foods – and incorporate a balanced mix of these 5 food groups as much as possible: fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts. Generally if you are eating mostly whole foods (from all of the 5 food groups), taking a B12 supplement, and getting a bit of sunshine (or supplementing) for your vitamin D ... then you're probably doing great!

From beans and legumes to fruits, nuts, grains and vegetables, mother nature has blessed planet earth with an abundance of food that’s kind to animals, gentle on the environment and healthier for us.

Meat

There are plenty of whole foods that can easily replace meat in your favourite meals – think lentils in tacos and lasagne; cannellini or black beans in chilli; chickpeas, pumpkin or cauliflower in curries; or stir-frys, soups and roasts packed to the brim with a variety of vegetables. Mushrooms of all varieties are also a great substitute for meat (oyster mushrooms especially have a very ‘meaty’ texture). Find some of our favourite recipes at VegKit.com.

But there are also a growing number of plant-based meat substitutes that are readily available in major supermarkets – it seems like more are added to the shelves every week. These include plant-based bacon, mince, sausages, ‘fish’ fillets and ‘chicken’ schnitzels, whole pre-prepared ready meals and even party pies and sausage rolls. Explore our shopping guide for more.

Eggs

Whether you’re baking up a storm or cooking a hearty breakfast, egg-free is easy (and delicious!) From mashed banana to apple sauce and flaxseeds, these natural, plant-based ‘binding agents’ all work beautifully to create light and fluffy cakes and desserts. There are also commercial egg replacer products that are readily available. Find some tips on plant-based baking here.

For a plant-based twist on scrambled eggs, this tofu scramble is a real crowd pleaser. Even if you’re not typically excited by tofu, any good tofu scramble is sure to surprise and delight. And if you’re really hungry, why not add it to a Big Brekky!

Dairy

With 1 in 6 Australians choosing dairy-free, the market for plant-based alternatives to milk, cheese, ice-cream and yoghurt is booming. Whether you’re after a creamy smoothie or melty toasty, there are plenty of calcium-rich dairy-free products lining the supermarket shelves, and more are being added every week. Here’s our guide to the best plant-based milks to suit all occasions, some ideas for plant-based swaps for milk, butter and eggs, and a more extensive shopping guide to show you what products are available at the supermarkets.

Explore our 'Same but Better' page for more ideas on tasty plant-based swaps for all your favourite foods.

You will get some protein from nearly everything you eat, from spinach to chickpeas to bananas – there is protein in virtually every plant food. (Consider how the mighty gorilla builds all his muscle – on leaves, bamboo shoots and fruits!)

Most Australians eating the standard Australian diet consume nearly twice the amount of protein they actually need. So you can imagine it's still pretty easy to get your recommended daily intake of protein from a diet full of plants rather than meat. That being said, it's good to make a point of eating a few high-protein foods each day to ensure you're hitting the mark on this essential macronutrient.

Beans, pulses, nuts and seeds are particularly reliable sources of protein (and fibre, too – which the average Australian could use a bit more of!) Include beans in your soups and veggie bowls, and add nuts or seeds to your salads, porridge, pastas, and even baked goods! Minimally processed soy products like tofu and tempeh are great, too – particularly because soy is also a 'complete protein' meaning it contains all the essential amino acids we need for healthy development. Many grains pack in the protein, too – incorporate oats, couscous, wild rice, and wholegrain pastas into your meals, and you'll boost your meal's protein whilst also increasing your fibre intake and getting a healthy dose of some key vitamins and minerals.

If you eat a varied diet with foods from a couple of these categories every day, chances are you will consume the recommended daily intake of protein without having to think much about it!

Explore our high-protein recipes for some more guidance in the kitchen.

In short – no. Lots of plant-based foods contain calcium!

Calcium-fortified soy milk is an easy and effective way to get your calcium if you previously consumed dairy-based milk and want to simply swap one milk for the other. Soy beans naturally contain calcium so even edamame (the raw beans) and tofu (a minimally processed soy product) are great sources of this bone-strengthening nutrient.

Dark, leafy grains (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, Swiss chard, cabbage) also provide a decent source of calcium. Some beans – like white beans, black beans, chickpeas, and lentils – provide roughly 10% the RDI of calcium in a cooked cup. There are a few other ways to bump up your calcium – at snack time, go for a handful of almonds or some dried figs, or have a couple tablespoons of tahini in your next meal.

If you're concerned about your calcium intake, chat with your doctor or a dietitian about taking a supplement, which is also a perfectly healthy way to meet your body's requirements.

At most supermarkets nowadays you can find milk made from a wide range of plant sources. Soy milk and almond milk tend to be the most popular, but depending on your taste preferences and how you like to use milk, you might like another kind – like oat, rice, or coconut milk! It's worth experimenting with a few different ones (and brands, really) to find your favourite. This guide to plant-based milk might be a good place to start.

Yes – You will need to take a B12 supplement. B12 is a critical vitamin for our brain function and our arterial health. Due to an evolutionary glitch of sorts, our bodies don't create readily available B12 the way some animals do, so we need to take a B12 supplement to ensure we are getting enough of this nutrient. Head to NutritionFacts.org to learn about the best sources of B12.

Other nutrients that you may need to be mindful of, especially when you are new to plant-based eating, are iron and calcium. You can get adequate amounts of these nutrients from plant-based food sources, but you may choose to talk to a healthcare professional or dietitian if you'd like personalised guidance.

Then the good news is that eating plant-based can be as cost efficient as it is delicious! In fact, one study from 2020 found that embracing a diet of mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant proteins could save the average household $1,800 a year.

Consider the plant-based food groups: the grains and starchy vegetables we should eat most often are already cost effective, as are protein-rich legumes like beans and lentils, especially if you buy them raw rather than tinned. Fresh fruit and vegetables can fluctuate in price depending on the season, so a great option for the budget conscious is to shop in the freezer section – and the good news is that snap frozen berries and veggies are just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts (and you'll likely reduce food waste from unused veggies going off in the crisper)! Nuts and seeds are an important addition to every diet, not just a plant-based one, and while these products may have a higher up-front cost, a little really does go a long way.

The cost of meat and dairy alternatives will depend on the product: some are comparative with the animal-based version and others are more expensive, however these costs are coming down as demand for plant-based products grows. Like all processed foods – including meat – we're advised by health experts to eat them sparingly anyway.

Eating plant-based is by its very nature quite cost-effective but to save even more money, we suggest: focusing on whole foods rather than processed foods; buying seasonal produce (it's not only better for the environment but you'll be more likely to support local farmers); buying in bulk (beans, oats, rice and nuts can be very affordable when bought in large quantities); planning ahead (as with any diet, you do tend to spend more money when you shop at the last minute); and cooking at home as much as you can (and cooking ahead – these Smoky Beans not only taste delicious but freeze beautifully!)

While the idea of a 'plant-based diet' may sound obscure or entirely new to some people, the funny thing is that many of the foods and meals you're probably already eating are in fact plant-based and are part of a nutritious plant-based diet.

  • Porridge or cereal for brekky? Swap the milk for soy or almond milk and you're sorted. Prefer toast? Most spreads including peanut butter, jam and Vegemite are already plant-based.
  • Sandwiches for lunch? Swap the meat for a marinated tofu or tempeh, or some ready-made plant-based deli slices which you can find at most major supermarkets.
  • Pasta with red sauce for dinner? Instead of adding a mince to your sauce, add some veggies or lentils! Or try plant-based mince – there are plenty of brands readily available at most supermarkets.

Head to VegKit.com to see 5 easy meals you probably already know and love that can easily be made plant-based.

And on the VegKit blog we've gathered a whole week's worth of quick and easy plant-based meals in one article to help get you started!

Trying to overhaul your entire diet can be – well, overwhelming! So most importantly, go at your own pace. No matter the stage you're at in your exploration of plant-based food, there are loads of resources out there to give you a hand... We've created several to help you get started:

VegKit.com: VegKit is an initiative of Animals Australia. Head there for tips on nutrition, products, keeping the whole family happy and a mouth-watering collection of 150+ tasty recipes.

Veg Starter Kit: It's VegKit in a handy booklet! Order your free kit and you can refer back to it anytime you need some inspiration.

VegKit Blog: Join our blog community to learn and share with others who are also dipping their toes in the plant-based water! Find advice on where and how to begin, cooking tips from the pros or jump right in with a week's worth of plant-based meals you can throw together with minimal time and even less effort!

While it's widely acknowledged that eating whole foods as close to their original form as possible and limiting processed foods is the healthiest option, plant-based meats can be a healthier option to conventional meat products.

A research report commissioned by independent think tank and adviser on plant-based alternatives, Food Frontier, found that plant-based meats are nutritionally superior or comparable – on average across most categories – to similar conventional meat products; do not present the same individual and public health risks of conventional animal meat; and offer some of the health benefits associated with plant-based eating.

VegKit.com is a great place to start: Learn more about how to transition to plant-based eating, what your dinner plate should look like for optimal nutrition, and how to win over friends and family with over 200 delicious recipes to choose from!


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