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For some people, plant-based means a plant-only diet that consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and products made from them and excludes all animal products, including meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products and honey. For others, it’s a diet centred largely around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds but spares the hard stop of cutting out animal products. Wholesome plant-based eating whether vegan or omnivore certainly aligns with our goals at GI News encouraging people to tuck into “the good carbs and minimally processed staple foods made from them that are digested at a rate that our bodies can comfortably accommodate.”

Avocado on sourdough
The health benefits are measurable. Dr John Sievenpiper of St. Michael’s Hospital and his team carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis of 112 randomized control trials in which people substituted plant proteins for some animal proteins in their diets for at least three weeks. They found: “substituting one to two servings of animal proteins with plant proteins every day could lead to a small reduction in the three main cholesterol markers for cardiovascular disease prevention.” The health benefits could be even greater they said “if people combined plant proteins with other cholesterol-lowering foods such as viscous, water soluble fibres from oats, barley and psyllium, and plant sterols.”

According to consumer research company Mintel, “plant-based” is the hottest trend because it has rebranded “vegan” for the mainstream market – consumers who are willing to eat more vegetables, but not give up meat. New US food and drink products that mentioned “plant-based” grew 268% between 2012 and 2018 they say.

Like many food and diet trends, when opportunity knocks, the market answers with a myriad of processed products of varying nutritional quality. Atlantic Natural Foods plant-based seafood alternative, Loma Linda Tuno in Spring Water, has just arrived on our supermarket shelves. (The Australian product is made in Thailand and distributed by Freedom Foods.) The label on the can tells us it’s a “plant based seafood alternative.” While it may have a “fish flavour”, it’s not really an alternative to seafood if you are eating a vegan diet as it hasn’t been fortified with the B vitamins (including B12) you’ll get in canned tuna.

The take-home? We are fans of a plant-based diet built around good carbs and the minimally processed foods made from them, including products fortified with essential vitamins lacking in vegan diets. With processed foods, be a bit wary. “Vegan” and “plant-based” on the label doesn’t give a product a “health halo”. The food inside can be high in calories (kilojoules), saturated fat (from coconut and other plant fats), added sugars, refined starches and added sodium and low in essential vitamins and minerals. Remember, says dietitian Nicole Senior: “a soy-based frozen dessert may be lower in saturated fat than regular ice cream as the fat predominantly comes from vegetable oils (not cream). However, it’s no lower in calories (kilojoules) and the main ingredient is added sugar. Like ice cream, it’s an occasional treat.”

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Source: Loma Linda Tuno in Spring Water distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Freedom Foods Group Trading Pty Ltd. Made in Thailand. Values relate to the solid portion of the content.