The benefits of a plant-based diet and how technology can help

Friday 16th June

By Alexis Poole

Alexis (BSc, ANutr) is a Registered Associate Nutritionist and Nutrition Manager for London-based Food Tech startup, Spoon Guru. She is passionate about helping individuals eat a balanced diet, whatever their dietary preferences. Using her knowledge in personalised nutrition, alongside Spoon Guru’s technology, she aims to make nutrition science accessible and understandable.

It is well known that good nutrition is at the forefront of staying healthy. While tobacco use, lack of physical activity, and alcohol consumption are all risk factors which increase the likelihood of developing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), so is an unhealthy diet. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), NCDs are attributable to 63% of annual deaths worldwide making this a priority for public health. To aid this effort, we're now seeing more and more food-technology startups create tools to help tackle these risk factors. To celebrate Healthy Eating Week, Spoon Guru’s Nutrition Manager Alexis Poole explores which food groups contribute to a healthier diet, and how technology could help.

Recent media interest has encouraged the idea that certain nutrients (such as sugar, salt, and fat) are major culprits in causing NCDs. At large quantities each of these nutrients may contribute to disease, but it’s important to acknowledge that they all have a key role to play towards a balanced diet. Focus needn’t be on a specific nutrient – but instead understanding which food groups are beneficial for health could be a better approach. With this in mind, there is now a growing body of evidence which suggests that moving towards plant-based dietary approaches could keep the risk of disease low.

So why can eating more plant-based foods be good for our health?


There is evidence which suggests that increasing intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts reduces the risk of all-cause mortality (death, regardless of cause). In addition, the opposite has shown to be true for some types of meat, indicating that increasing intakes of red or processed meat may increase risk. Plant-based foods are diverse in their nutritional content and offer an array of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. Whole grain carbohydrates such as pasta, bread and rice contain many nutritious components including a bran layer, which typically contains antioxidants, B vitamins and fibre, the nutrient rich germ, which contains B vitamins, protein and some minerals, and the carb-loaded endosperm. Not only this, fruits and vegetables contain vitamins such as vitamin C, B, E and K, iron, folate and potassium, to name a few. Nuts, avocados and olive oil are fantastic sources of healthy unsaturated fatty acids, which we should aim to replace saturated fats with.

In addition to this, a major reason fruits and vegetables are great for our health is that they are a source of fibre. High dietary fibre intake is associated with a reduction in LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol, and keeping levels within normal ranges will contribute to keeping your heart healthy. In line with this, studies have shown that there is an association between higher intakes of dietary fibre and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, another major public health issue. While the government has increased daily recommendations of fibre to 30g per day, sadly in the UK we still have a long way to go to achieving these recommended intakes.

So the current research supports a plant-based approach to food. In addition to this we are also seeing a rise in consumer plant-based dietary preferences. The number of vegans in the UK has risen by 360% in the past 10 years, which campaigns such as Veganuary have certainly influenced. In January 2017, their campaign exceeded predicted signups with registered participants surpassing 50,000, and during this period the Spoon Guru app saw a 35% surge in vegan user’s.


Your pocket food finder – some top tech solutions


If you’re moving towards a more plant based diet, or even just a flexitarian one, it’s handy to know which apps are out there to make things easier. For help finding a suitable plant-based restaurant, try Happy Cow, Vanilla Bean or biteappy, or to find plant-based foods in the supermarket, check out Spoon Guru, Is It Vegan or Safe for Vegans. If you don’t want to leave your house, allplants, Hello Fresh, Able & Cole, farmdrop and Odd Box will deliver plant-based meals or fresh fruit and vegetables to your door with the click of a button. And it’s not just technology start-ups enabling easier access to plant-based recipes and food products. Retailers are also responding to consumer demand with one major retailer having recently signed a partnership with Spoon Guru to help take the fuss out of finding foods online and in their grocery mobile app, specifically including vegan and vegetarian options. In addition, online Facebook forums are helping inspire the plant-based community such as New Vegan Support and Veganuary and there are even weekly twitter chats such as Vegan Hour, Veganuary Hour and Vegan Recipe Hour.

It’s not to say that all meat products need to be excluded, these foods also have a role to play as part of a balance diet. What should be considered is how you could modify your diet, as it is, to increase your intake of fruits, vegetables and grains, since this could be one way to improve your diet and reduce your risk of disease. With technological resources at our fingertips, doing this is becoming easier than ever.

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