New research from the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) reveals that 61% of British people say they are unlikely to follow a plant-based diet in the New Year, with 45–54-year-olds being the least likely of all age groups to do so (66%).
The survey, undertaken by YouGov on behalf of BNF, shows that the most likely age groups to follow a plant-based diet in the New Year are 25-35 and 55+, with nearly a quarter (22%) of respondents from each age group likely or very likely to do so. Sixteen per cent of 18-25 year olds, 15% of 25-35 year olds and 12% of the 55+ age group say they already follow a plant-based diet.
While the term ‘plant-based’ is growing in popularity, the BNF survey reveals that many people are confused about its definition. The majority of those surveyed believe that a plant-based diet means cutting out meat and sometimes dairy completely, with 41% of respondents saying that a plant-based diet means following a vegan diet and 20% equating it with following a vegetarian diet. Almost 1 in 10 (8%) state they do not know what a plant-based diet is at all.
Sara Stanner, the BNF’s Science Director, explains: “Most organisations, including BNF, define ‘plant-based diets’ as those mostly based on foods derived from plants, such as grains, vegetables, fruit, pulses and nuts, but that can also include a smaller proportion of animal derived foods such as meat, fish, eggs and milk. This is the type of diet depicted in the Government’s healthy eating model, the Eatwell Guide, in which over two-thirds of the foods illustrated are derived from plants. However, most people in our survey thought it meant being vegetarian or vegan, with only 10% equating plant-based with a ‘flexitarian’ approach, or a diet that provides a diversity of different protein sources.
Research shows that diets that contain a high proportion of plant-based foods have health and environmental benefits, and we need to make sure people are not put off this style of eating by thinking they have to avoid all animal foods. The key to a healthy plant-based diet is eating a wide variety of plant foods, but not necessarily cutting out animal products altogether.”
In the survey, the most commonly selected reasons for why someone would follow a plant-based-diet are: don’t agree with eating meat (53%); think it is more environmentally sustainable (52%); and a plant-based diet is healthier (42%). When asked whether plant-based foods and drinks are healthier than those from animals, the most common response was neither agree nor disagree (39%).
Stanner continued: “We have seen significant growth of interest in plant-based diets in recent years, influenced by both health and environmental concerns. Diets rich in plant foods have many health benefits including providing micronutrients, fibre, fruits and vegetables. However, animal foods such as meat, dairy, eggs and fish are important sources of a number of minerals and vitamins, including iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin B12, and so it’s important to balance the diet to make sure we’re getting everything we need. For many of us, the key may be finding ways of including more plant-based foods without drastic changes to the diet, for example, making stews with a mix of meat and beans instead of just meat, adding extra vegetables to meals and trying out a wider variety of plant foods or plant-based recipes.”
In the survey, people were asked which plant-based foods they eat at least once a month; the most popular options are nuts (5%) and lentils, beans or chickpeas (50%). The results also show that more people in the younger age groups favour ‘processed’ alternatives, such as Quorn products (26% of 18–24-year olds) and meat-free burgers and sausages (33% of 25–34-year olds) but that fewer people in the older age groups choose these products.
Over a quarter (26%) of all females and 17% of males in the survey say they regularly consume plant-based milk alternatives; with 18-24-year olds the most likely to use these products (33%). However, plant-based alternatives to cheese and yogurt are eaten less often (4% and 11% respectively). A quarter (25%) of all respondents do not regularly eat any of the plant-based foods listed in the survey, such as pulses, nuts, meat-free mince or sausages.
Stanner added: “It’s interesting but perhaps not surprising to see that younger adults appear to be choosing more plant-based products such as milk alternatives, plant-based yogurts and plant-based ready meals than those aged 35 and over, as plant-based diets seem to particularly appeal to younger people. It’s great to see so much choice now available to consumers when it comes to plant-based products but, a note of caution, that ‘plant-based’ does not always guarantee ‘healthy’. When you’re shopping or choosing foods and drinks on the go, it’s always a good idea to check nutrition labels where possible and to go for those foods with less saturates, salt and sugar and to think about the balance of the diet overall.”