New Year, new you: How to be more health conscious in 2022

Tip: Incorporating more plant-based recipes into your lifestyle could be the kickstart you need

Many South Africans will be looking to 2022 as the kickstart they need to start living a healthier lifestyle. This may include relooking their mental health, exercise regime or eating plans for the new year. 

With research from the South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicating that there’s been an increasing number of deaths resulting from non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and high-blood or largely lifestyle-related diseases which may be prevented by interventions such as a healthy diet, trying a plant-based diet which has numerous health benefits may be worth looking into.

Don’t be afraid to make a change

As a nation of meat-eaters, the term plant-based might sound a little scary but according to corporate dietician Aziwe Booi, all this means is a diet rich in vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits that does not include meat products. Starting to incorporate plant-based foods into your diet may raise questions about protein – if your protein – which keeps you fuller for longer- isn’t coming from chicken or beef then how do you get your daily intake from plants?

What is plant-based?

Booi explains, “Certain plants such as legumes, wholegrains and nuts contain plant-based proteins which is good for preventing non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and high-blood pressure, for example.” In addition to helping to reduce disease, some of the other health benefits of a plant-based diet include gaining energy, building muscle (when exercising), reduction of fat intake which is good for heart and organ health, and it aids in weight management.

Adding plant-based proteins into your eating plan can start with something as simple as breakfast. ProNutro, for example, contains a high amount of plant-based protein natural powder, is a source of Vitamin A, vitamin B and iron and makes a nutritious breakfast for families wanting to start with incorporating plant-based into their daily lives. 

 “This type of plant-based protein is good for gut health and the digestive system, most notably it is also good for mental health. By including more plant-based food such as fruit and vegetables into your diet you can also reduce the risk of certain mood disorders,” says Booi.

Can your family afford it?

For families trying to include more plant-based into their daily eating habits, the question around finances is an important one that comes up. Imported products and fancy packaging may leave shoppers in a tizz but it’s about going back to basics when it comes to the type of plant-based foods you include in your diet by educating yourself.

First, when moving to plant-based eating, educating yourself on this type lifestyle change is important. Read as much as you can, speak to a dietician and ask questions. Doing research can help you make informed decisions about the type of foods you should be eating. It can also assist with identifying what you can treat yourself with and what to stay away from thus reducing wastage and helping you to reduce costs. Understanding labels is also important as it will help you to make informed purchases.

“Take your time to understand what makes up a plant-based diet, a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich is also considered a plant-based meal. Things like hummus, pesto (without cheese) are all plant-based, you just need to be intentional about what you are eating. Another way to incorporate plant based is to go for meatless Mondays, for example” Adds, Booi.

Second, meal planning has proven to be one of the most effective ways to stick to eating plans and to save money. By planning weekly and monthly menus shoppers are able to make informed purchases without overspending and may in fact save money considering that plant-based diets do not contain expensive meats but things like lentils and chickpeas which can be purchased for as little as R20.

Third, look for substitutes and replacements and start slowly. “Take meals you already enjoy and substitute meat for plant-based items. A good substitute for example is lentils for mince in your spaghetti bolognaise as a way to start.”

To conclude, trying plant-based can be challenging in the beginning but incorporating it into your daily life gets easier with a little bit of research and experimentation. 

Tips for going plant-based:

  • Get educated about going plant-based
  • Speak to your dietician or health practitioner 
  • Find meat substitutes for your favourite meals
  • Understand the health benefits
  • Learn to read food labels