Choose breakfast carefully for your good health, and the welfare of our planet

Much more than taste, health is a fundamental factor in making the choice to move to a plant-based diet. (Image: Supplied)

Much more than taste, health is a fundamental factor in making the choice to move to a plant-based diet. (Image: Supplied)

The old adage that South Africans can’t live without red meat is becoming less and less true, and yes, this even applies to that old favourite “full house” breakfast, which is often referred to as “a heart attack on a plate”.

The science doesn’t lie, after all, and South Africans comprise a significant proportion of people across the globe who are swapping out animal products for a plant-based diets – not because veganism is the new consumer fad, but because they’re following the evidence of the associated health benefits.

Just about everyone can recall being told as a child to eat their breakfast, because it’s the most important meal of the day. Critically, a balanced breakfast helps regulate blood sugar levels and cravings and provides energy and nutrients to power you through your day. Jessica Kotlowitz, popular Green Dietitian, explains: “Breakfast is an easy option to ‘veganise’ as it’s usually vegetarian already. You can just replace dairy products with plant-based alternatives. If you enjoy eggs at breakfast, for example, experiment with tofu scrambles or chickpea omelettes.”

If you prefer something of a “quick-fix”, options include fruit and nuts, toast, pre-made muffins to-go, or even a bowl of a high protein cereal like South African favourite ProNutro. It’s made from  plant-based* proteins, high in 18 essential vitamins and minerals, and it’s whole wheat variants are also high in dietary fibre.

Kotlowitz stresses that it’s critical for anyone making the switch to a plant-based diet to research the nutritional aspects to ensure their meals are balanced and comprised of all the essential nutrients. Interestingly, nutritionists will tell you, it is indeed possible to eat unhealthily as a vegan.

As such, for those adopting a predominantly whole food plant-based diet, read those labels to determine your intake of Vitamin B12, iodine, Calcium, Vitamin D and Omega 3, because you may well need to supplement to ensure sufficient intake of these essential nutrients.

Much more than taste, health is a fundamental factor in making the choice to move to a plant-based diet, especially in South Africa where the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – primarily driven by poor lifestyle choices – are threatening health systems.

According to the South African Medical Research Council (MRC), research shows that South Africa is home to the highest number of obese and overweight people in sub-Saharan Africa, with more than 70% of women deemed overweight (or obese). Data also shows that five out of every 10 South African adults suffer from hypertension, with an unhealthy diet the common risk factor.

According to StatsSA the 2nd and 3rd leading causes of death in South Africa are Diabetes and Cerebrovascular disease, commonly known as a stroke, both of these conditions are considered non-communicable diseases or diseases of lifestyle and can largely be prevented by consuming a healthy diet.

Shockingly, the MRC warns that South African women have a 21,2% likelihood of dying from a non-communicable disease, like cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory illnesses and heart disease. Their male counterparts, aged between 30 and 70, have an even higher 32.3% likelihood of dying from an NCD.

So, is a plant-based diet an easy solution? And is there evidence?

  • A plant-based diet can reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, so reducing the risk for lifestyle-related health issues such as heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
  • Eating a plant-based diet could reduce your risk of developing heart disease by 16%, and of dying from the condition by 31%, according to a Journal of the American Heart Association study.
  • Eating a plant-based diet filled with high-quality plant foods reduced the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 34%, says a study in PLoS Medicine.
  • The Adventist Health Study-2, a Diabetes Care Study, found substantial body mass index (BMI) differences between non-meat eaters and meat eaters with vegans being the only segment of the population in the normal BMI category. The average BMI for vegans was 23.6, against 28.8 for non-vegetarians. The latter qualifies as overweight, according to the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Kotlowitz stresses that while it’s a good idea to switch to a plant-based diet for the health benefits, there are also important ethical considerations: “Environmental concerns have led many people to adopt a more plant-centred diet, especially since the 2010 United Nations report on climate change urged a move away from meat-centred diets in order to mitigate the impact of climate change.”

It’s difficult to argue when we learn that more than 20 times more fresh water is required to produce animal products compared to the same weight of plant products, proving the enormous strain that animal agriculture puts on water resources and water security. In Australia, for example, 43% of irrigation water is used by the animal agriculture industry, while only 24% is used for fruit, vegetables and grains for human consumption. Farmers in South Africa are also the leading direct users of water, consuming 66% of all water.

So, before you tuck into that next bacon-and-eggs breakfast, spare a thought for your lifestyle, your health … and the planet. As Kotlowitz says, a plant-based diet doesn’t only offer the opportunity to enjoy tasty, healthy food, but also to ensure the welfare of the Earth.

Five top benefits of a plant-based diet 

  • A balanced plant-based diet reduces the risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, overweight/ obesity, diabetes, kidney disease and high blood pressure.
  • Eating a plant-based diet, with staple plant foods like legumes, pulses and grains, is cheaper than buying animal products.
  • A plant-based diet is kinder to the environment.
  • Plant-based diets are effective for managing weight.
  • A longer life: A Journal of the American Heart Association study found that a plant-based diet lowers the risk of all causes of mortality by 25%. 

* Excludes strawberry and chocolate variants which are 93% plant based.

This post and content is sponsored, written and provided by ProNutro.