[Podcast] Plant-based diets and sustainable eating

Profile picture of Iona Bell
Specialist Dietitian, Cromwell Hospital
05 January 2024
Next review due January 2027

If you’re thinking of eating more plant-based foods, it’s important to make sure your diet is varied and contains all the nutrients you need. In this podcast we explain what a plant-based diet is and talk about sustainable eating.

Listen to the podcast below or read on to find out more.

What does a ‘plant-based diet’ mean?

A plant-based diet focuses on foods that come from plants such as fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, legumes and seeds. It usually includes eating less animal products such as meat and dairy. The term plant-based can describe a range of different diets. The following are some examples of these.

  • Vegetarian. A vegetarian diet is one that doesn’t include meat or fish. It can sometimes include eggs, dairy products and honey.
  • Vegan. A vegan diet excludes all animal products, such as meat, fish, animal rennet, gelatine, stock or fat from animals, dairy, eggs and honey.

Plant-based diets don’t always mean cutting out animal products completely. It can also mean eating more plant-based foods, while sometimes having animal products, such as in the following diets.

  • Pescatarian. A pescatarian diet doesn’t include meat, but does include fish and seafood.
  • Flexitarian. The term flexitarian describes a diet that is vegetarian most of the time, but sometimes includes animal products. For example, choosing meat when eating out at a restaurant.

Why might you choose to eat a plant-based diet?

People might choose to eat less animal products and more plants for various reasons. These could include:

  • ethical reasons, such as animal welfare concerns
  • environmental and sustainability reasons 
  • cultural or religious beliefs
  • health reasons

What are the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet?

Some of the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet may include:

  • reducing your saturated fat intake (found in red meat and full-fat dairy products)
  • increasing your intake of vitamins, minerals and fibre (from fruit, vegetables, pulses and grains)

In combination with exercise, eating a well-balanced diet that’s low in saturated fat may help you to:

But it’s important to eat a variety of high quality, nutritious foods if you’re cutting down on animal products. Lots of plant-based foods are high in fat, salt or sugar. Or they may be ultra processed. These types of foods might not provide your body with all the nutrients it needs.

Can you get all the nutrients your body needs on a plant-based diet?

If your meals are well-planned and balanced, it's possible to get all the nutrients you need when eating a plant-based diet. But some nutrients can be more difficult to get from plant-based foods. Here are six examples of some of these nutrients.

1. Protein

Protein is essential for growth and repair of your body. It’s made up of amino acids.

To get all the amino acids you need, you could try to combine lots of different sources of plant-based proteins. Good plant-based sources of protein include quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, beans, nuts, seeds and oats. You can also find it in soy products like tofu and tempeh, and some milk alternatives such as soy milk.

2. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 helps to prevent nerve damage and anaemia.

You can get vitamin B12 from milk, cheese, yoghurt and eggs. But if you’re excluding animal products from your diet completely, you’ll need to get vitamin B12 from fortified foods (foods with added nutrients) or supplements. For example, breakfast cereals, plant-based milks and nutritional yeast products.

3. Iron

Iron is a mineral that helps to make red blood cells and carry oxygen around your body. It’s also important for growth.

Plant-based sources of iron can include fortified breakfast cereals, beans, lentils, chickpeas, spinach and tofu.

The type of iron found in plant sources isn’t as easily absorbed by your body as animal sources of iron, like meat. To help your body to absorb the iron better you could eat sources of vitamin C along with plant-based sources of iron. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, kiwi and peppers.

4. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of fats that are thought to keep your heart and joints healthy.

Oily fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Plant-based sources can include vegetable oils such as hemp, rapeseed and flaxseed oils. They’re also found in nuts like walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts, as well as soy products and green leafy vegetables.

If you’re following a completely plant-based diet you could consider taking a plant-based omega-3 supplement.

5. Calcium

Calcium can help to keep your bones and teeth healthy.

Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are good sources of calcium. Most plant-based milks and yoghurts are now also fortified with calcium. Calcium is also found in some dried fruit, nuts, sesame seeds, tahini, tofu, some green leafy vegetables and other fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals.

6. Zinc

Zinc helps your immune system to fight off harmful germs and heal wounds.

Meat and shellfish contain the highest levels of zinc. But it’s also found in plant-based protein sources such as legumes, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. These plant-based sources of zinc are less easily absorbed by your body, so it’s important to eat a variety of these foods.

There are also other nutrients that you could consider, such as selenium and iodine.

What is sustainable eating?

Sustainable eating can be described as a way of eating that supports the future of our environment.

While it’s ideal for your diet to be sustainable, it’s also important to make sure you get all the nutrients you need. Not all sustainable diets are nutritious, and not all nutritious diets are sustainable. Also, excluding animal products completely isn’t always needed for a diet to be sustainable.

There are small changes you could make if you’d like to try eating a more sustainable diet. For example, you could have one meat-free day a week or try to reduce your food waste.

If you’d like to find out more about sustainable eating, visit the One Blue Dot project from the British Dietetic Association.

Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

Profile picture of Iona Bell
Iona Bell
Specialist Dietitian, Cromwell Hospital



Atiya Henry, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

    • Plant-based diets. British Nutrition Foundation., last reviewed June 2019
    • Vegetarian, vegan and plant-based diet. British Dietetic Association., accessed 8 December 2023
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    • Plant-based diets and their impact on health, sustainability and the environment: a review of the evidence: WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2021. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO
    • Nutritional considerations for dietitians. British Dietetic Association., accessed 8 December 2023
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    • Omega-3. British Dietetic Association., April 2021
    • Fish oils. Versus Arthritis., accessed 11 December 2023
    • Eating patterns for health and environmental sustainability: A reference guide for Dietitians. One Blue Dot – The BDA’s environmentally sustainable diet project. British Dietetic Association., updated August 2020

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