Waitrose vegan

Plant-based alternatives have proliferated in the past couple of years

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 thatthe most likely age groups tofollow 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 theyalready follow a plant-based diet.

While the term ‘plant-based’ isgrowing in popularity,the BNF survey reveals that many people are confused about its definition. The majorityof those surveyed believea plant-based diet means cutting outmeat,and sometimesdairy, completely. Some 41 per cent said plant-basedeating meansfollowing avegandiet,while 20 per cent equate it withfollowing avegetariandiet.

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 onfoods derived fromplants, such asgrains, vegetables, fruit, pulses and nuts,butthatcanalsoincludea smaller proportion ofanimal derivedfoodssuch asmeat,fish, eggs and milk.

“This is the type of diet depicted in theGovernment’shealthy eating model, theEatwell Guide, in which over two-thirdsofthe 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,ora diet that provides a diversity of different protein sources.

“Research shows that diets that contain a high proportion of plant-basedfoodshave 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 keytoa healthyplant-based diet is eatingawide variety of plant foods, but not necessarily cutting out animalproductsaltogether.”

In the survey, the most commonly selectedreasons for why someone would follow a plant-based-dietare: “don’t agree with eating meat” (53 per cent);“think it ismore environmentally sustainable” (52 per cent); and“a plant-based diet ishealthier” (42 per cent).

When asked whetherplant-based foods and drinks are healthier than those from animals,themost common responsewas“neitheragreenor disagree” (39 per cent).

In the survey,people were asked whichplant-based foodstheyeat at least once a month. The mostpopularoptionsare nuts (51 per cent) and lentils, beans or chickpeas (50 per cent).The resultsalsoshow thatmore people in theyounger age groups favour ‘processed’ alternatives,such as Quornproducts(26 per cent of 18–24-year-olds)andmeat-freeburgersand 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 allfemales and 17 per cent of malesin the surveysaytheyregularly consume plant-based milk alternatives,with 18–24-year-olds most likely to buy these products (33 per cent).However,plant-basedalternatives to cheese and yogurtare eaten less often(four per cent and 11 per cent respectively).

A quarter(25 per cent)of all respondents donotregularlyeatanyof theplant-based foods listed in the survey, such as pulses, nuts, meat-free mince or sausages.