MALAYSIANS are no strangers to the concept of vegetarianism and veganism. Whether for religious or health reasons, practising a meat-free way of life is becoming increasingly popular among the wider community.
In 2017, Malaysia was ranked third on a list of vegetarian-friendly countries by the Global Vegetarian Index, and a study conducted in 2019 by Rakuten Insight found that about 60% of respondents consumed plant-based alternatives to animal-based food products.
People who have adopted a plant-based diet swear by its many health benefits, which include a reduced risk of type-2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other chronic illnesses. Many people also report feeling more energetic and having an overall sense of well-being.
If you have ever wondered about the benefits of introducing more plant-based foods to your diet, or even dropping meat altogether, here are some basic facts that you need to know.
What can you eat?
The definition of a plant-based diet can depend on who you ask. Some people interpret it as a vegan diet, which involves avoiding all animal products. For others, a plant-based diet means that plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes are the main focus of their diet, but they may still occasionally consume meat, fish or dairy products.
Generally, it is an eating style that emphasises real, whole foods that come from plants, including:
Vegetables: These include nutrition-rich favourites like kale, spinach, tomatoes, cauliflower, potatoes, squash and others.
But you are not just limited to vegetable stir-fry dishes or salads. There are numerous recipes and options out there for you to choose from.
Whole grains: Some familiar choices include brown rice, oats, quinoa, barley and wheat. Whole grains are an excellent source of fibre and help maintain stable blood sugar.
They also contain essential minerals, such as magnesium, copper and selenium.
Legumes: These include peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts and beans, and are an excellent source of fibre and plant-based protein, making them a suitable alternative to meat.
Nuts and seeds. From nut butters to sunflower seeds, these provide added nutrition to your diet in the form of essential vitamins and minerals.
How do you start?
Here are some simple strategies to help you easily transition to a wholesome, plant-based diet.
Start slow: Pick a few plant-based meals and rotate them in a week.
Start with meals you have always enjoyed that just happen to be plant-based, then build on those meals.
Cut down meat and processed food intake: Instead of going cold turkey from the beginning, start by changing the proportion of plant and animal-based foods on your plate.
This will give your mind and body time to accommodate to the new diet.
Make simple changes like adding a large portion of salad or a fresh fruit bowl to your daily meals.
Go for plant-based meals: Once you have tested the waters, you can take the next step by committing to eat at least one plant-based meal every day.
Try going for a meat-free breakfast, lunch or dinner and then slowly increase the frequency of plant-based meals you have per week.
Know your food: In general, it is best to stick to whole, intact foods as much as possible.
Other than that, educate yourself on nutrition and ways to prepare different ingredients.
Alternatively, you can consult a dietitian or even online resources for guidance on making the transition and familiarising yourself with the lifestyle.
Stock up on healthy foods: Take time to explore vegetarian and fresh produce aisles at your local supermarket.
Stock up your kitchen with nutritious, plant-based foods and keep healthy snack options in easily accessible places like your bag, desk drawer, kitchen counter and fridge.
Keep your meals fun and exciting: Focus on foods you like and ones that are easily accessible to you.
Stick to easy recipes, and learn new ones to keep things exciting.
As you start to enjoy new foods and new flavours, you will notice how much better you feel. And soon, you will start to crave more plant-based foods over time.