Posted: 22/08/2020

Sustainable Kitchen’s Julie Cleijne clears up the confusion over ‘plant-based’


More than a quarter of new UK food products launched in 2019 were labelled as vegan, and circa 19 million Brits are choosing a flexitarian diet. But there is still plenty of confusion around ‘plant-based’ foods, and what that term actually means.

Sustainable Kitchen’s Julie Cleijne explains what plant-based really means.

The first thing to note, is the difference between the terms ‘plant-based’ and ‘vegan’. Veganism refers to a holistic lifestyle, which is much more than diet, and ‘plant-based’ refers to a particular diet type.

The Vegan Society defines veganism as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible, all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”.  

So someone may adopt a ‘plant-based’ diet for health or environmental reasons, but be okay with wearing shoes made from leather, as animal welfare may not be as much of a concern. 

“There is a misconception that the term ‘plant-based’ means healthy, and that’s not always the case.”

It’s also important to note that people choose to follow particular diets for a variety of reasons. Those could be personal health reasons (e.g. allergies or heart condition), religious reasons, animal welfare, environmental concerns, or if they’re breast-feeding a baby allergic to dairy.

‘Plant-based’ refers to a diet completely of foods derived from plants, with no animal ingredients – focused on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. But there is a misconception that the term ‘plant-based’ means healthy, and that’s not always the case.  

Someone who has chosen to adopt a plant-based diet for personal health reasons might want to exclude refined foods – such as sugar, excess salt, or processed oils – and they will choose foods based on nutritional content of ingredients, rather than just a label. Whereas those more motivated by animal welfare or environmental concerns may not worry about the nutrition as much.

And don’t forget the ‘flexitarian’ diet, which describes someone who has a primarily plant-based diet but occasionally eats meat, fish, or dairy.

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