Vegan or plant-based? Where to start?

Catherine Lawson

Making any shift in your diet and lifestyle can be challenging, particularly once the novelty wears off and you find yourself having to dig deep to keep the motivation going. Deciding to eliminate some, or all, animal products from your diet can feel particularly overwhelming, not only because of all the mixed messages and conflicting information out there but because it involves fundamentally changing how you shop, prepare and relate to your food. Like most major changes in life though, finding a way to make the shift sustainable is key to your success.

Being clear about exactly what your nutrition goals are, and the reasons behind them, is a good place to start and with that in mind it’s worth highlighting the difference between a vegan diet and a plant-based diet. Put simply, veganism eliminates all animal products and by-products from your diet and lifestyle whilst a plant-based diet is based pre-dominantly on plants (around 80-85% of your diet) but includes occasional or limited animal products (for example you might choose to eat fish once or twice a week or have eggs for breakfast sometimes). For many, allowing for some flexibility by adopting the plant-based approach makes the ‘less meat, more plants’ shift more appealing and therefore more sustainable. For others, deciding to eliminate all animal products and by-products, is a clear, non-negotiable lifestyle choice which is sustainable because of the reasons behind the decision.

In the main, there are three key reasons why an increasing number of people are choosing to reduce or remove animal products from their diet and lifestyle all of which are powerful, motivational factors: animal welfare, environmental impact and personal health and wellbeing. Each reason brings its own set of complex considerations to the table so one size most definitely does not fit all when it comes to deciding how we eat, how we choose to nourish our bodies and the extent to which animal products may or may not be involved.

Whatever your dietary goals might be, and the reasons behind them, starting to make the shift towards more plants is undeniably good for animals, good for you and good for the planet. Take personal health for example. We only need to look at the widely acclaimed Mediterranean diet (one of the original plant-based diets long before the term became as popular as it is today) to see the numerous health benefits which come from eating a diet which is heavy in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, beans, pulses, and healthy plant-based fats. When animal products are reduced, and nutrient dense plant-based whole foods are increased (keeping it nutritionally dense is key to vegan and plant-based health) the difference it can make to the quality of life we experience through better health and wellbeing can be profound. Like any diet though, the danger zone when it comes to health is where the mass produced, refined, processed foods are found whether they’re vegan or not. They have their place of course, however, as always, it’s all about the balance.

No matter the extent to which you reduce or eliminate animal products in your diet it’s worth noting this: every step you take counts. Small steps of change, over time, can have a significantly positive impact. When we then consider the collective impact of all our individual steps of change, the outlook for animals, the environment and our personal health and wellbeing starts to look a whole lot brighter.

Catherine Lawson is the founder and operator of Barefaced Food, an award winning plant-based bakery and coffee house based in Ayr. Catherine’s lifelong passion for food and nutrition inspired her to make the shift from a teaching career to entrepreneurship in 2020. Her aim is to create food which showcases the joys and benefits of plant-based eating.