Especially after the popularity of Veganuary, veganism is hugely on the rise. Another term that is now floating around is 'plant based' which is used heavily in the groundbreaking new Netflix documentary The Game Changers. We take a look at the important distinctions between 'vegan' and 'plant based'.
Is Vegan the same as plant based?
The simplest answer to this is that no, vegan and plant based are not the same thing. All people who are plant based are vegan, but not all vegans are plant based. By extension, being plant-based is a sub-division of veganism.
It's important to remember that eating a vegan diet is not always intrinsically healthy, and that is where veganism and plant based differ the most. As a vegan, you are not eating any animal products or foods made with animal derivatives. This means no red meat, poultry, dairy, or eggs and is often done for ethical and environmental reasons rather than health reasons.
However, this means that a vegan could still eat unhealthy foods like potato chips, fries, and white bread. In fact, it would be easy for a vegan to be deficient in important vitamins and nutrients and to be more unhealthy than a meat-eater. As a vegan, you might try very hard to replicate all of your old favourites like cheese and meat but in doing so you could harm your health.
A lot of processed vegan alternatives like 'vegan cheese' and 'vegan burgers' contain a lot of chemicals and although they're better for animal welfare and the environment than eating meat, that's not beneficial to you. Always, the more natural the better. If you're a vegan, it's important to try and maintain a healthy diet and not just focus on eliminating entire food groups and replacing them with chemically-enhanced franken-burgers and sugary carbs.
On the contrary, those who are plant-based only eat foods that are, you guessed it, plant based. This means foods like beans, legumes, pulses, fruits, and vegetables. All of these foods are inherently healthy and therefore a plant-based vegan would expect to be more healthy than a non plant based vegan. Some plant-based eaters go one step further and follow a completely raw food diet, which means eating solely uncooked foods.
What do you eat on a plant based diet?
A plant-based diet is sometimes thought of as being restrictive, but it's absolutely not and if you try transitioning from being an omnivore to being plant-based, you may well discover a lot of new foods you've never tried before. On a plant-based diet, you only eat foods that are whole and natural such as fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds, beans, whole grains, and legumes. Of course, any plant based diet is open to interpretation and what works best for you.
It's important for vegans and those on a plant-based diet to get enough protein and vitamin B3, as these are the macro- and micro-nutrients that can be difficult to get enough of on a meat-free diet. There are plenty of plant-based protein sources that those on a vegan diet can enjoy, mostly from beans, whole grains, pulses, seeds, nuts, and legumes.
Read more: Healthy Vegan Brownie Recipe
Vegan grocery shopping list
This is what a typical vegan grocery shopping list might look like in order to enjoy a varied and balanced diet that is healthy and provides enough of the right nutrients.
- Black beans
- Wholewheat pasta
- Brown rice
- Almond/soy milk
- Coconut milk/coconut cream
- Green beans
- Kidney beans
- Vegan protein powder
From these ingredients there are lots of delicious and healthy recipes you can create, from homemade vegan beanie burgers to vegan protein mousse and tasty salads.
Thinking about going vegan? Check out our tips for going vegan
Want to try more vegan recipes? Try this vegan blueberry muffin recipe or this vegan ice cream sundae recipe.
If you're trying to lose weight, improve sporting performance, or improve your physique, knowing about macros could help you. We're here with everything you need to know about this important aspect of fitness and health.
What are macros?
The word 'macros' in a fitness context is short for 'macronutrients' and refers to the three building blocks of our food: fats, protein, and carbohydrates. Every food in existence is made up of varying ratios of these 'macros'. Macronutrients aren't what makes a food inherently 'healthy' or 'unhealthy' – for that we instead look at micronutrients which refers to vitamins and minerals. Fruit and vegetables are rich in micronutrients which makes them healthy, whereas junk food contains little to no micronutrients which is why it's unhealthy. Of course, this isn't the only thing that makes junk food unhealthy, but it explains that it's not unhealthy just because it's high in fat or carbs.
Sub-categories of macronutrients include fibre and sugar, which are classed as carbohydrates, and alcohol, which is sometimes referred to as 'the fourth macro'. Macros have set calorie amounts – 1g of carbs contains 4 calories, as does 1g of protein, while 1g of fat contains 9 calories. This is why foods high in fat are naturally higher in calories, but not necessarily more unhealthy. For example, nuts and seeds are very calorific because of their fat content but they are very good for our health. Just don't eat too many in one go!
Ultimately, weight loss or weight gain is dictated by your daily calorie intake vs expenditure, however looking deeper at counting your macros can help you make sure you're getting enough of the right nutrients as well as improving your fitness and sporting performance. Someone who is slim due to not eating lots of calories may seem healthy, but if they're not eating the right combination of macros and micronutrients, they aren't really healthy at all.
Each macronutrient is important for our health for a different reason. Fat is important because some vitamins are can only be absorbed by our bodies when we consume fat, it also insulates us and helps our brains function properly. Carbohydrates fuel us while protein repairs damaged muscles and promotes new tissue growth. No single macro should ever be vilified and we need all of them to have a healthy, functioning body. The ratio you choose will depend entirely on your lifestyle and fitness goals.
Which macro split should I use?
One of the most extreme macro splits that is popular at the moment is the keto diet. People following the keto diet aim to enter a state called 'ketosis' whereby the body uses fat for energy instead of carbs. The most common keto macro split is 70% fat, 25% protein, 5% carbs, but some people are known to have gone as extreme as 90% fat with only 5% reserved for each carbs and protein.
Keto is a very extreme diet and the long-term health effects have not been conclusively studied. For the average person, it is definitely better to follow a more traditional macro split.
Macros for weight loss
The average adult when trying to lose weight should focus primarily on their calorie balance – how many calories you eat versus how many you burn on a daily basis. Being in a calorie deficit is the only way to lose weight, and how much of a calorie deficit you're in will dictate how quickly you lose weight.
A safe and well-trusted daily deficit of 500 calories will see you lose around 1lb per week. Any weight loss diet must be sustainable for it to work and for you to see real results. Therefore, an extreme macro ratio will not be helpful. Instead, you'll want to opt for a very sensible macro split of 40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat. This will ensure you are getting enough of each macro and will not feel deprived and can still eat delicious, filling foods such as brown rice, quinoa, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. It will also ensure you still have plenty of energy and can exercise safely.
Macros for bodybuilding
When bodybuilding or powerlifting, an athlete will need more protein than the average adult due to the necessity to build more muscle. A classic macro split for bodybuilding or powerlifting is 40% protein, 40% fat, 20% carbs. Like the keto diet, this is a relatively low carb diet, albeit nowhere near as extreme. Another high protein macro split which is more balanced is 40% protein, 30% carbs, 30% fat. Both of these ratios would be beneficial for someone who lifts heavy weights regularly (5-6 times a week) and doesn't do much cardio (such as running).
If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM)
A diet/lifestyle often touted on social media is something called IIFYM – If It Fits Your Macros. This is the idea that so long as the foods you're eating fit your daily macro outlines, you can eat whatever you want. As touched upon above, some foods are far inferior to others due to their lack of real nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fibre).
People who promote IIFYM claim they can eat chocolate, pizza, fast food, and porridge oats smothered in peanut butter every day without any negative side effects, and are often in very good shape themselves. Unfortunately, the truth is this isn't possible for the average adult. Without adequate fibre, vitamins, and minerals, you will become very unhealthy very quickly and will suffer from all number of health issues from constipation or diarrhoea to headaches, lethargy, and vitamin-deficiencies.
While it's true you could maintain your weight on an IIFYM diet, you would not be getting the nutrients you need from junk foods like chocolate, chemical flavour drops, and other products popularly pushed by these social media stars. This is one to be avoided by most people.
James Mitchell @iifymitch regularly posts photos like the above on Instagram, but eating half a bar of chocolate on top of porridge oats for breakfast every day is not a good idea for anyone.
How to count macros
Once you have decided on the best macro ratio for you, you need to know how many calories you should be eating in a day. The easiest way to do this is using a TDEE Calculator. Your TDEE is your Total Daily Energy Expenditure and takes into consideration your daily activity level, your age, weight, gender, and other factors which will affect how many calories you burn on a daily basis.
Once you know your TDEE, you can adjust your calories in accordance with your goals. As mentioned above, if you're looking to lose weight, you should take 500 calories off your TDEE. If you want to pack on muscle, you should add calories.
So let's say your TDEE is 2,000 calories and you want to lose 1lb a week. Your daily calorie goal will be 1,500 calories.
If you've chosen the sustainable weight loss macro split of:
- 40% carbs
- 30% protein
- 30% fat
40% of 1,500 is 600
30% of 1,500 is 450
This will equate to:
- 600 calories from carbs
- 450 calories from protein
- 450 calories from fat
As we know, there are 4 calories in 1g of carbs and protein and 9 calories in 1g of fat. So that means our macros would be:
- 150g of carbs
- 112g of protein
- 50g of fat
You will need to keep a food diary and track exactly what you're eating so that you know what macros you are consuming. The easiest way to do this is with an app like MyFitnessPal as everything will be automated to make it easier.
It may seem like a lot of work at first, but once you have a routine in place and you know the calories and macros of the foods you eat most, you will find it much easier to count your macros.
The Zone Diet was developed by American medical researcher Barry Sears. Its main aim is controlling the hormones of the body by eating lean protein and unprocessed foods in order to achieve weight loss. While the logic makes sense, does this diet really work? We take a closer look.
How Does The Zone Diet Work?
The Zone Diet is pretty complicated, and to follow it properly you would need to do a lot of research into macronutrients, hormones, and blood sugar.
When following the Zone Diet, meals are split into 'blocks'.
7 grams of protein = 1 block. 14 grams = 2 blocks. 21 grams = 3 blocks.
9 grams of carbs = 1 block. 18 grams = 2 blocks. 27 grams = 3 blocks.
1.5 grams of fat = 1 block. 3 grams = 2 blocks. 4.5 grams = 3 blocks.
A one block meal would consist of one block of protein, one of carbs, and one of fat. There are then two block meals which are two portions of each, three block meals which are three portions, and so on. The blocks work on the rule of consuming 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 30% fat at every meal.
Followers of the diet are encouraged to eat at regular intervals in order to keep the hormone levels balanced and to weigh out their food. The Zone Diet classifies carbohydrates by the Glycemic Index which rates them according to how quickly they raise the blood sugar. Slowly-absorbed carbohydrates have a low GI rating (55 or below), and include most fruits and vegetables, milk, some wholegrain cereals and bread, pulses and basmati rice. The Glycemic Index is usually used by diabetics to manage their insulin levels.
The logic of controlling the body's hormones in order to lose weight and stay healthy is a great one. Many people do not realise the effects that their nutrition has on their hormones and the effect that those hormones have in turn on their mood, weight, and other lifestyle factors. The Zone Diet focusses on three key hormones: glucagon, insulin, and eicosanoids. Glucagon tells the body to release stored carbs at a steady rate which stabilises blood sugar levels. Insulin is the storage hormone and an excess can cause excess weight gain. Eicosanoids control various other hormones in the body.
This diet also encourages people to weigh their food and eat at regular intervals which are excellent healthy eating habits. The macronutrient split is not as harsh as other people may insinuate, as 40% carbs is really not that low.
For a start, this diet is probably too confusing for most people to follow, and when people can't understand something they won't stick with it. Another major flaw with this diet is that it classifies carbohydrates in a way that would tar tomatoes with the same brush as rice or pasta, even though they have a completely different effect on the body. This diet implies that a portion of vegetables would count towards as many carbs as a bowl of porridge or something similar, which simply isn't true.
Additionally, this diet encourages people to cut corners. One source states that if a snack bar were to contain 8g of protein, 29g of carbohydrates, and 6g of fat, you would only count the carbs and so this snack bar would be a '3 block carbohydrate' which we can clearly see it isn't. The block system over-simplifies counting macronutrients, and rounding down 8g of protein and 6g of fat to zero is not a good habit to get into as it'll lead to overeating and frustration.
While the roots of this diet make sense, the execution is very poor and it risks leading people into bad habits. For those who have no prior understanding of nutrition, macronutrients, or hormones, this diet would be far too complicated and could lead to them becoming wildly misinformed. Weight loss and healthy living do not have to be complicated! Eating healthy, whole foods in moderation and not exceeding your daily calorie allowance is all you need.
It's hard to avoid the newest trend in town: fat is in, carbs are out. But is a high fat/low carb diet right for you? We explore why it might not be all it's cracked up to be.
Saturated Vs Unsaturated Fat
It's the most trendy thing in the world right now: the humble avocado. Why? Because it's high in 'healthy' fats (and because it makes for a cute emoji). Fat is enjoying a resurgence of late because, well, we need it to survive and the fact it has been demonised in the past is now being put into question. We need fat for a variety of natural bodily functions such as creating energy, absorbing vitamins and minerals, maintaining body temperature, and insulating the body's vital organs.
There are three types of fat: saturated, unsaturated (which is then sub-categorised into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and trans fat. Trans fat, otherwise known as hydrogenated fat, is completely synthetic and is never good for you; you could live your whole life without consuming it and you'd actually be better off for it. Saturated fat goes in cycles of scientists deciding it's bad for you, then declaring it's actually not bad for you, then changing their minds again ad infinitum. The difference between saturated and unsaturated fats is found at a molecular level and refers to the way the hydrogen molecules are bonded together. Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature, things like butter and cheese. Unsaturated fats are more likely to be oils like olive oil and vegetable oil however it's also found in foods like fish and nuts.
Which type of fat is better for you?
What's interesting is that a lot of research surrounding which types is better for you is observational or anecdotal. For example, one study found that a group of people with heart disease had higher levels of saturated fat in their diets so it was decided saturated fat must equal heart disease. However, we all know that correlation does not equal causation and a study like this doesn't actually prove that the fact these people had consumed a lot of saturated fat is what caused their heart disease.
Similarly, when it comes to how healthy unsaturated fat is claimed to be, people often refer to the 'Mediterranean diet' and how the people of countries like Greece and Italy consume larger quantities of olive oils and fish so that must be why they're all so slim, tan, and healthy. However, when you visit these countries, you realise that these people are all so fit and healthy because they walk or cycle everywhere, live up steep hills so do a lot of strenuous exercise just to buy their morning newspaper, and are more likely to work a physical job than wilt in an office all day.
Coconut oil is a saturated fat yet it is enjoying real popularity at the moment due to its supposed health benefits. So, the jury's out on which fat we should consume and probably always will be depending on whose agenda is paying the most for advertising at the time. But what we are being told is that a high fat diet is awesome for you. But is it really?
The Keto Diet
The biggest fad diet of recent years is the keto diet. The Atkins diet reborn, this eating habit was first developed to help reduce seizures in epileptic children but people soon discovered it had more benefits than that. The keto diet is a very extreme diet and many followers will eat up to 70% fats in a day leaving only 20% for protein and 10% for carbs. Anyone you talk to who is a proponent for this diet will passionately and sometimes heatedly tell you about how much weight they lost by following it. So it must be great and the answer to your prayers, right?
Perhaps not. What a lot of keto-fans omit is that they also practise intermittent fasting as part of their keto diet. Intermittent fasting is a lifestyle that has been around for millennia and is a proven, healthy way of losing weight. So is it the high fat diet making these people lose weight or the fact they are objectively in a calorie deficit due to the fasting? I'd argue it's the latter.
The keto diet has a whole host of nasty side effects such as 'keto flu' and halitosis (bad breath). Why anyone would voluntarily go through this process is beyond me, but it's trendy and all your favourite Instagram influencers are doing it so it must work (that's a lot of people's thinking).
Why a high fat diet might not be right for you
This is the real reason you're here: to find out why a high fat diet might not be the saviour we all thought it would be. Put in simple terms, fat contains a lot more calories per gram than protein and carbohydrates; over double the amount in fact.
Fat contains 9 calories per gram. So 100 grams of pure fat would contain 900 calories (lovely thought, not.)
Carbohydrates and protein, however, contain only 4 calories per gram. So even though bread has been demonised by the anti-sugar, ant-gluten fanatics, it is objectively lower calorie than avocado gram for gram.
What this means is that on a high fat diet you cannot consume the same volume of food that you can on a lower fat diet. The volume of food you eat is just as important as how many calories you consume because it can affect you mentally. If you're only allowed to eat 1 avocado and a ton of butter in a day rather than a truck load of vegetables, rice cakes, popcorn and other low-calorie high density foods, you're going to feel hard done by and importantly: hungry.
If you're someone who is prone to extreme hunger, binge attacks, or just doesn't have the steely, inhuman self control of pristine Instagram models, a high fat diet might not be right for you. High fat foods are easy to over-consume and you can't eat as much of them. Snacks like nuts are a big one for many people: they're told they're healthy, so they eat fistfuls every day and then wonder why they're gaining weight. A similar phenomenon started happening with peanut butter when that was enjoying its heyday on social media.
We need all three dietary macronutrients to maintain a healthy diet: fat, carbs, protein. They all play their own part and have their own benefits. If eaten in moderation, anything can be healthy. Taking things to the extreme is never a good idea and cutting out whole food groups is not sustainable. Depending on your fitness training and goals, you might need more of one macronutrient than the other, but it should never be as extreme as 60 or 70% of just one macronutrient.
Traditional 'junk food' such as cookies, cakes, and doughnuts contain trans fats which is one reason why they're so unhealthy, plus the obvious fact that they contain no vitamins or minerals and are often very high in sugar and calories. It's not because they're 'carbs'. Vegetables are carbs after all!
High-fat foods are calorie-dense meaning you can't eat as much volume. Unprocessed carbohydrates like fruit, vegetables, popcorn, brown rice, and beans can be just as healthy for you and you can eat more volume of them because they are lower in calorie pound for pound. Ultimately, balance is always key!
If you suffer from a sensitive gut or often get painful stomach symptoms, forget a life on medication, you could benefit from a low FODMAP diet. But what is it? What does it mean? And which foods can you eat? We take a look.
What does FODMAP stand for?
FODMAP stands for fermentable oglio-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols. These are the scientific terms used to refer to a class of carbohydrates which are highly likely to trigger digestive symptoms such as trapped wind, bloating, and stomach pain. Foods containing these FODMAPs are more likely to aggravate the gut, especially in sensitive people who suffer from conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and endometriosis.
What foods contain FODMAPs?
FODMAPs are mostly found in various carbohydrates. The below foods are high in the various FODMAPs:
- Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese)
- Certain fruits, mainly mangoes, figs, and blackberries
Foods to avoid on a FODMAP diet
If you suffer from a sensitive gut and have chronic symptoms like bloating, gas, stomach pains, and an irritable bowel, you could benefit from following a low FODMAP diet. Additionally, if you suffer from a food intolerance such as Coeliac disease or a lactose intolerance, you could also benefit from following a low FODMAP diet.
When on a low FODMAP diet, you want to avoid high FODMAP foods. These include the above-mentioned foods like wheat, rye, dairy, and fruit. There are plenty of tasty and enjoyable low FODMAP foods that you can still eat, such as chives, chilli, mustard, ginger, and pepper.
Fruits that you should avoid on a FODMAP diet include mangoes, figs, and blackberries, however you can still enjoy bananas, blueberries, kiwis, and limes, all of which are low FODMAP fruits.
You should also avoid most legumes on a low FODMAP diet, however you can still enjoy brown rice, maize, oats, and quinoa.