By Marie Douay
*Editor’s Note: All recommendations in this article are based on Marie's personal knowledge in the field. She has a strong passion in the subject area but is not a certified nutritionist or registered dietitian.
From Netflix top-watched documentary Game changers (1) to famous plant-based trail running interviews - Fiona Oakes, Brendan Brazier, to name a few (2) - plant-based diets have attracted a lot of attention in recent years. Facing intestinal dysfunction, I decided to adopt this diet 5 years ago. Beside its positive impact on my body, it made me realize how much of an impact our consumption has on our communities and environment.
What is it ?
Being plant-based doesn’t mean necessarily being vegetarian or vegan. Besides consuming primarily veggies, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, it involves a broader sense than the content of our plate:
Avoid as many processed foods as possible (ready meals, industrial bread, candies…).
Limit animal products, try to use organic products and coming from free-range farms.
Give priority to local/regional products.
What are the benefits of a plant-based diet?
There are different motivations to adopt a plant-based diet:
Medical: Selecting & cooking our products at home may be the only way for people who suffer from celiac disease or strong allergies to nourish their organisms without taking any risk with processed foods or animal-derived products. Not only does it take time to check the ingredient list, but there might always be some traces of possibly harmful components in many of the processed foods. Just take a look at the labels on your next supermarket tour and you will easily find bread or pasta - supposedly made of flour, water and salt - with a label indicating “might contain traces of shellfish/crustaceans/nuts” (yuck).
Ethical: Many of us have seen documentaries or videos circulating on social networks, of cows, chicken, pigs, rabbits, fish suffering from bad living conditions. Plant-based diets do not necessarily exclude meat or animal products, but rather focus on their living conditions, and the quality of the final product instead of quantity. Giving priority to quality may come with a higher cost but keep in mind that protein and calcium can also be found in veggies and grains. Both Western and Asian cultures have been promoting daily consumption of animal products in the past decades, but studies now show that there is no need to do so (3). Environmental: Food production is responsible for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (GGE). Red meat industry is on top the ranking: producing one kilogram of red meat emits 60-70 kg of CO2-equivalents while chickpeas emit less than 1 kg of CO2-equivalents per 1 kg of product.
Any “ready-to eat” foods, even the healthiest chocolate energy bar “made from natural ingredients” are energy consuming. Made of Scottish oats, various honey sorts from Vietnam and Poland blended in the USA, American peanuts, cocoa from Ghana, Himalayan salt, Madagascar vanilla extract. All mixed and packaged individually in Europe before finding its way to your shopping bag in Asia. And so, reducing our consumption of animal products and processed foods seems like the first logical step toward an eco-responsible behavior.
But where can I find my proteins?
Keep in mind that an average female runner will need 1.2 to 1.7 g of protein per kg of body weight per day to ensure muscle maintenance & recovery for a moderate training intensity. I recommend a combination of some of the most-consumed plant-based foods listed below 3-4 times per day. Otherwise, I recommend adding a post-workout smoothie with plant-based protein into your diet.
Protein per 100g :
Chickpeas pasta: 25g Seitan: 24g Red Lentils pasta: 20g Low-fat yogurt: 20g Oats: 13g 2 eggs: 12g Firm tofu: 12g Tempeh: 12g Edamame: 11g Half-half combination of rice & seeds (Lentils/Chickpeas/Beans): 7g 2 tbsp peanut butter: 7g Quinoa (cooked): 5g
Do not focus too much on completing daily recommendation every single day. If you are eating a versatile, healthy diet your body balances your nutritional intake for you. Feel free to adapt & balance your diet according to your environment, training intensity, social life, cravings etc. Important reminder: protein is not a fuel source but a bone and body tissue (muscle) builder. You definitely need protein in your diet but make sure to also take in enough carbohydrates (potatoes, wholegrain rice & pasta) and good fats (nuts, avocados, olives). Carbohydrates give you energy for your workout, fats regulate hormones and play a big role in the absorption of nutrients. You will not forget to fuel a nice car built on your own before a road-trip, will you?
Do I need vitamins & mineral supplements?
Except electrolytes which will compensate for the sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium lost during your training (important especially with this current warm & humid climate), I will not recommend you to take any supplements without a nutritionist’s advice. Except if you are vegan and need B12 supplement, a balanced plant-based diet should compensate for all your needs. Beware of the over-the-counter supplements available anywhere: an overdose of some vitamins could cause damage to your kidneys, liver, guts or blood flow. Where can I find my locally sourced products?
This depends on your current location and unfortunately some places in Asia are entirely dependent on imports. Even if you have to buy imports there are better and worse options. For example, there is a triple gap between buying American oats and Australian ones if you are based in Hong Kong. See a list of commonly-consumed products that you can source locally or buy from countries in close proximity to Hong Kong.
Bananas: Philippines Avocado: Australia Oats: Australia, China Beans (chickpeas, lentils): Australia, Thailand Chocolate: Indonesia, Vietnam Rice, peanuts: China Seitan, tempeh, tofu, plant-based milk, coconut yogurt can be bought in the local wet market, or made at home.
Plant-based recipes for the day:
(Each recipe except the scrambled tofu can be frozen up to one month so batch-cook these on your days off.)
Morning: Scrambled tofu (3-4 portions) Sauté one medium onion and 2 cloves of chopped garlic in a saucepan for about 5 minutes. Add a scrambled tofu block (around 400g),1 tbsp of turmeric, salt and pepper. Serve warm topped with fresh herbs and toasted sourdough.
Lunch: Turmeric falafels (3-4 portions) Blend finely 2 cups of night-soaked raw chickpeas with 1 cup of cilantro, 1 jalapeno pepper, 3 garlic cloves, 1tbsp cumin, 1tbsp tumeric. Mix with 1 cup of chopped onions, 2 tbsp otahini, 1 lemon juice, 1 tbsp baking powder, salt and pepper. Roll, brush with olive oil and bake for 25-30 minute at 400F / 200C. Serve in salads, topped with lemon juice mixed with tahini.
Dinner: Creamy Cheddar sauce over pasta/potatoes (3-4 portions) Mix two cups of boiled potatoes, one cup of carrots, ¾ cup of soaked cashews, ¾ cup of nutritional yeast, salt, pepper. Serve warm topped with fresh herbs and hot sauce, on potatoes, pasta or even tortilla/roasted cauliflower.
On the way: Banana-bread (8-10 slices) Mix three medium bananas with 1/3 cup of agave syrup, 2/3 cup of whole-wheat flour, 1/3 cup of oats, 2 tbsp of chia seeds, 2 tbsp of mixed flax seeds, 1 tbsp of baking powder, salt. Bake for 40-50 minutes at 350F/180C.
(1) The Game Changers directed by Louie Psihoyos, available at https://www.netflix.com
(2) Plant powered athletes with Fiona Oakes, https://thrive-magazine.co.uk/running-on-plant-power/ How I Thrive on a Plant-Based Diet by Brendan Brazier, https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/brendan-brazier/plant-based-diet_b_5598793.html
(3) FAO and WHO. 2019. Sustainable healthy diets – Guiding principles.