Veganuary is under way once more but new research has revealed there is considerable progress to be made in improving the uptake and understanding of plant-based eating in the UK.
Over three-fifths (61 per cent) of Brits are unlikely to follow a plant-based diet this year, with 45-54-year-olds least likely to do so (66 per cent), according to a study commissioned by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF).
The survey undertaken by YouGov revealed that the most likely age groups to follow a plant-based diet in 2021 are 25–35 and 55+. Nearly a quarter (22 per cent) of respondents from each age group said they are ‘likely or very likely’ to do so.
Meanwhile, 16 per cent of 18-25-year-olds, 15 per cent of 25-35-year-olds, and 12 per cent of over-55s 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 a plant-based diet means cutting out meat, and sometimes dairy, completely. Some 41 per cent said plant-based eating means following a vegan diet, while 20 per cent equate it with following a vegetarian diet.
Almost one in 10 (eight per cent) say they do not know what a plant-based diet is at all.
Sara Stanner, the BNF’s science director, explained: “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 per cent 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 per cent); “think it is more environmentally sustainable” (52 per cent); and “a plant-based diet is healthier” (42 per cent).
When asked whether plant-based foods and drinks are healthier than those from animals, the most common response was “neither agree nor disagree” (39 per cent).
In the survey, people were asked which plant-based foods they eat at least once a month. The most popular options are nuts (51 per cent) and lentils, beans or chickpeas (50 per cent). The results also show that more people in the younger age groups favour ‘processed’ alternatives, such as Quorn products (26 per cent of 18–24-year-olds) and meat-free burgers and sausages (33 per cent of 25–34-year-olds). By contrast, fewer people in the older age groups choose these products.
Over a quarter (26 per cent) of all females and 17 per cent of males in the survey say they regularly consume plant-based milk alternatives, with 18–24-year-olds most likely to buy these products (33 per cent). However, plant-based alternatives to cheese and yogurt are eaten less often (four per cent and 11 per cent respectively).
A quarter (25 per cent) 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.