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Wednesday, 3 August 2022

What is plant-based living?

diet nutrition plant based

An increase in awareness around food industry practices, global shortages, and environmentalism have resulted in plant foods taking centre stage like never before.

Vegetarianism has been around for a while, with most people being familiar with the lifestyle. However, the past decade or so has seen a rise in alternative diets, such as plant-based.

What is a plant-based diet (and what isn’t it)?

Not to be confused with veganism, a plant-based diet focuses on whole plant foods but doesn’t entirely exclude animal products – this part is up to personal preference. The shopping cart of someone following this diet might be 80% full of fruit, veg, grains, legumes, nuts, and then some eggs, fish, and dairy products taking the final 20%.

It’s easy to see how plant-based, vegan, and sometimes vegetarian diets can get confused. Plant-based is a way of eating where the focus is on whole plant foods, but some animal products may still be consumed. Vegan refers to a diet and lifestyle which eliminates all products derived from animals (honey, eggs, gelatin, and more). And a vegetarian is someone whose eating patterns omit meat and seafood, however, may still include egg and dairy products.

The benefits of a plant-based diet

The simple answer? It’s better for your health AND the planet. There has been an increase in awareness around the environmental impact of our food choices, so let’s take a look at some of the research and information out there:

  • Researchers from Deakin University found that meeting the current Australian Dietary Guidelines, which recommend the majority of our diet comes from plant-based sources, is linked to a 30% lower risk of obesity in men and women
  • A large-scale study published in Molecular Psychiatry suggests a 33% reduced risk of depression when following a ‘mainly plant’ diet (such as the Mediterranean diet)
  • Currently, only 1.7% of Australians follow a strictly vegan diet
  • Nearly 20% of Aussies are actively reducing the amount of meat in their diet

The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, brought together thirty scientists from around the world and reached a consensus on the most sustainable and healthy diet. Their report indicated that global consumption of fruit, vegetables, legumes, and nuts will need to double and consumption of meat and sugar will need to decrease by more than 50% in order to transition to a healthy diet for a population of nearly 10 billion by 2050. What a mouthful (of plants, they hope)!

Plant-based and sustainability, what’s the connection?

The food we eat contributes more to our eco-footprint than personal transport and home energy use combined – with meat, eggs, and dairy products being the biggest contributors.

Australians are the sixth biggest consumers of meat in the world (after South American countries and the USA), with each of us eating an average of 95kg of meat per year. To put that in perspective, that's triple the amount recommended in the Australian Dietary Guidelines and the average global amount per person.

Small steps are better than none at all

Transitioning to a new way of eating is more than just groceries – it means developing a new relationship with food, learning new recipes, and more. But don’t let this deter you, it’s not as scary (or inconvenient) as it sounds!

Taking small steps, like eating meat for only one meal a day or simply increasing your veg intake, makes a huge difference in the long run. Now, when it comes to cooking, we get it – learning and testing new recipes takes time, but often it’s just about adjusting rather than starting from scratch. For example, instead of making an entirely-mince bolognese, how about adding some lentils and extra veg? For more tips in this area, check out our blog on sustainable eating.


  1. Deakin University, 2021. Study shows health benefits of following Australian dietary guidelines. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 27 April 2021].
  2. Lassale, C., Batty, G.D., Baghdadli, A. et al. Healthy dietary indices and risk of depressive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Mol Psychiatry 24, 965–986 (2019).
  3. Malek, L., Umberger, W. Distinguishing meat reducers from unrestricted omnivores, vegetarians and vegans: A comprehensive comparison of Australian consumers. Food Quality and Preference 88, (2021).
  4. Willett, W. et al. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The Lancet Commissions 393, 10170 (447-492) (2019).

Interested in Nutrition?

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Sophie Scott

Sophie Scott is passionate about nutrition, fitness and behaviour change coaching. As a Registered Nutritionist and Environmental Scientist, she takes a wholistic approach to nutrition, focusing on people’s relationship with food and driving a shift to a healthier approach to eating.

With more than 12 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry, Sophie has supported hundreds of women along their health journey through her business, fitandfed.

Sophie is an enthusiastic nutrition teacher and accomplished course creator at Endeavour College of Natural Health, inspiring the next wave of nutrition and wellness professionals.

Read more by Sophie Scott

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