Registered nutritionist Sian Porter shares her top tips on making simple plant-based swaps to make this Veganuary that is better for your health and the planet.
Last year was the most successful Veganuary to date, with a record 582,000 people pledging to go plant-based in January 2021. However, as we head into Veganuary 2022, many are still confused about the real difference between plant-based and veganism, if there is one at all, and what their health benefits are?
Like us, Merchant Gourmet – the healthy, plant-based pulses and grains brand – is passionate about plants. They’ve embarked on a mission to debunk the myths and educate Brits on how easy it is to follow a plant-based diet, which will positively impact health and help the planet.
So, before we get into Sian’s top tips, let’s address the elephant in the room, what is the difference between a plant-based diet and veganism? The key difference between the two is that veganism includes avoiding animal products of any kind, including clothing, whilst plant-based usually refers to diet only.
The plant-based movement began with veganism but has since expanded to include people who make dietary choices to minimise environmental harm and maximise their health but are not necessarily vegans.
Sian Porter, the nutritionist at Merchant Gourmet, said, “Studies have shown that eating more plant-based foods, including more fruit, vegetables and whole grains, and reducing red and processed meat consumption, can not only help the environment but your health too.” 
“Eating plant-based is healthy, balanced and tasty if you include a variety of ingredients that provide a range of nutrients and if you make suitable healthy choices. It’s worth remembering, though, any healthy diet depends on which foods and drinks are included, how often they’re consumed and in what amounts. It’s best to minimise foods that are high in salts, saturated fats and added sugars, and look to eat mostly minimally processed plant-based foods and foods you have prepared.”
With Veganuary proving to be as popular as ever this year, as many of us aim to get healthier and fitter, Sian Porter shares her top tips on how to make simple and easy swaps and eat more plant-based dishes:
1. Swap like for like to make classic meat dishes plant-based. For example, in dishes where you would use mince such as Bolognese or shepherd’s pie, use lentils instead, chickpeas make an excellent alternative for chicken in meals such as curries or beans thrown into a stew instead of the meat.
2. Don’t go straight for the processed ‘fake meat’ options as these can be high in saturated fats and salt. Instead, use lentils, beans and whole grains to make delicious plant-based meals, and save time by using pre-cooked pouches such as Merchant Gourmet Puy Lentils.
3. To make sure you’re getting enough protein, include whole-grain ingredients such as quinoa, wheat berries, brown rice, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, soya, as well as tofu.
4. A variety of protein foods should be spread throughout the day and included at each meal and snack. These can be fortified soy yoghurt and whole grains at breakfast, baked potatoes topped with flavoured lentils for lunch, a tofu and mushroom vegetable stir fry with mixed grains for an evening meal. You can also switch to a handful of seeds and nuts as a snack alongside some fruit and vegetables.
5. If you are including more plant-based food, you’ll be increasing your fibre intake, too, which is a real positive for your health. Increase these foods gradually over several days and weeks, so your digestive system has time to adjust and drink plenty of water as well.
-  Plant-based diets and their impact on health, sustainability and the environment: a review of the evidence: WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2021. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO: https://bit.ly/3EUdLb4
-  EAT-Lancet Commission Summary Report: https://bit.ly/3ePWa9B
-  GBD 2017 Diet Collaborators. Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. The Lancet, April 3, 2019; DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(19)30041-8
-  The Impacts of Dietary Change on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Land Use, Water Use, and Health: A Systematic Review
Aleksandrowicz L, Green R, Joy EJM, Smith P, Haines A (2016) The Impacts of Dietary Change on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Land Use, Water Use, and Health: A Systematic Review. PLOS ONE 11(11): e0165797. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0165797
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