Switching to a plant-based diet

Switching to a plant-based diet

Switching to a plant-based diet

There are many reasons to swap to a plant-based diet, from the perspective of health, ethics and the environment. While the prospect of ditching your favourite cookbook and starting over can be daunting, here’s how over the years I’ve been able to reduce the footprint of my diet without sacrificing flavour and still having fun in the kitchen!

Finding my feet

I was twelve years old when I, a child that loathed vegetables, told my dad that I was going to be a vegetarian. After failing to convince him that I could survive happily on a diet of mac and cheese, we agreed that I could cut out red meat, but I would continue to eat chicken and fish until I could sustain myself on a nutritious vegetarian diet. Over the next couple of years, I experimented with a range of recipes, and little by little, I gradually grew to enjoy vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, and all of the other delicious staples of a vegetarian diet. I found it surprisingly easy to cut out red meat, largely due to the wide availability of vegetarian alternatives, notably mince and sausages from the Quorn range, and Linda McCartney burgers. I slightly struggled initially with giving up chicken, though it was easy enough to substitute chicken for Quorn (or any vegetarian chicken alternative) in most recipes, I missed fast food style chicken. However, this longing was shortly alleviated by the release of Quorn nuggets, and soon after the Linda McCartney vegetarian chicken bucket. Definitely the hardest food for me to give up was tuna as I still haven’t found an alternative that quite hits the spot, but given the range of alternative meat products that are released every year with the rise in vegetarianism, I’m still holding out hope!

Avoiding meat on the menu

When I first started going vegetarian, options for me at restaurants were definitely somewhat limited, however recent years have seen a huge rise in not only the number of vegetarian options available at restaurants, but also the quality! Gone are the days of crumbly vegetable patties and plain tomato pasta: many restaurants now offer a range of both delicious meat alternatives (the Beyond Burger is always a safe bet when eating out), and more ‘traditional’ vegetarian meals with actual flavour! There are also a growing number of restaurants which cater specifically to vegetarians and vegans, which always manage to amaze me with their creativity, I’m particularly fond of vegetarian ribs made with sugar cane ‘bones’.

The benefits of plant-based

It was ethical reasons; concerns about animal welfare and the environment, that initially made me decide to become vegetarian, however, based on my experience there are also several other reasons to embrace this diet! One of the biggest perks has been saving money: while I was an undergraduate a few years ago I would regularly do my weekly shop for £20, with my record being £15! This convinced several of my undergraduate friends to cook mostly vegetarian meals, with the added benefit that they didn’t have to worry about not cooking their chicken nuggets properly. I’ve also found that a vegetarian diet is also an easy way to stay healthy- notably Quorn and other meat alternatives contain significantly less saturated fat than meat, an important consideration given the rise in cardiovascular disease, and plant-based meals ensure that I get at least my five-a-day every day.

From veggie to vegan

The same reasons that led me to become vegetarian have also inspired me to become vegan! Much like my transition to vegetarianism, I am also taking this one step at a time. Many of the recipes I now cook are vegan, and I buy only dairy-free milk and yoghurt, however I remain a bit of a glutton for cheese and chocolate (not together), so there is still work to be done. So far it was definitely much easier switching from eating meat to a vegetarian diet than it has been switching from a vegetarian diet to a vegan diet, mostly due to the availability of meat alternatives. However, based on my experiences, I fully anticipate that the coming years will see a rise in palatable vegan cheeses and affordable vegan chocolates!

Recipe roundup

I would encourage everyone that eats meat to try incorporating Quorn or other alternatives into your existing recipes and giving that ‘fake meat’ option at your local restaurant a go because you’ll probably be surprised! Once you start doing this it becomes much easier to transition to a vegetarian diet- the cheaper, healthier option if done right.

I have included below my three of my favourite vegan recipes that I cannot recommend enough if you fancy giving them a go!

  1. Vegan chilli - This is sublime on a jacket potato with some guacamole!
  2. Vegetarian cottage pie - While this is technically a vegetarian recipe, it can be easily made vegan by using dairy-free milk and cheese! I would also recommend cooking with tinned lentils rather than dry as I find they cook and taste better. I was also slightly horrified just now noticing the “serves 10”…
  3. Satay sweet potato curry - I tend to put slightly more peanut butter in, but it tastes great as is!

If you’re interested in learning more about how small dietary substitutions can have a big impact on the environment, check out this handy BBC calculator


About Liv

Liv is almost halfway through her PhD at the Institute, in which she is studying the regulation of DNA in immune cells. She has always been interested in helping the environment, and is a member of our Green Labs committee. In her free time she enjoys reading, painting, and of course cooking.