The incredible rise of plant-based eating

If you’ve noticed lots of plant-based eating trivia in the news today, it’s because it’s World Vegan Day. Whilst the rise of plant-based eating may upset some, I for one am (unsurprisingly) delighted that more and more people, of all ages, are beginning to make changes to the way they eat.

Research by Waitrose (click here)  indicates that 1:8 people in the UK now classify themselves as vegetarian or vegan, with many more declaring they are ‘meat-reducers’. I’m sure the irony that the editor of Waitrose magazine resigned this week over his unnecessarily aggressive comments on vegans is not lost on them!

It’s amazing how quickly things have changed in a very short period of time. I think back to when I first started The Sensitive Foodie blog in 2012 – it was all shiny and new then! Now plant-based cookbooks are the third most popular genre and it’s even featured on Great British Bake-off! It’s now much easier to eat out, with most restaurants offering at least one option and supermarkets are employing chefs to develop new ranges of vegan ready meals.

And it’s not just the UK; the movement is growing throughout Europe and further afield.

Whilst detractors may dismiss these changes as a short-term fad fuelled by social media, there are many good solid reasons why people are making the move to a more plant-based lifestyle

  • Health. Basically, eating a diet that’s high in plant foods is good for you. And there’s piles of research that backs it up. In particular, a whole-food plant-based diet can be used to reverse chronic health problems like type 2 diabetes and heart disease and halt a whole host of other health challenges ranging from multiple sclerosis to cancer.
  • Weight. Eating plant-based food that is packed with fibre helps you lose weight. Lots of people who have come on my Eat Well Live Well course have had amazing success, some losing up to a stone in only three months. That’s eating whole plant-food not refined and processed ready meals. Sorry to be a bore, but junk food is still junk food!
  • Environment. Humans have a devastating impact on the world. The food industry, particularly animal-based food, uses huge amounts of natural resources and produces lots of waste. And an every-increasing world population that continues to pillage and pollute means the problem is only going to get worse unless action is taken. There are many things we can do as individuals to help care for our beautiful world; eating a plant-based diet has the most direct impact.
  • Animals. The internet has helped opened people’s eyes to the reality of using animals as food, something that many of us were brought up to believe was totally normal, natural and necessary. Footage of intensively farmed animals fighting to survive, processes in abattoirs or the heart-broken cry of a cow parted from her new-born calf is now readily available. And it’s making people think.

The food industry is changing too. As demand increases, so does the variety of products available. This year alone has seen a 61% increase in new vegan products on the market.

But a word of warning; if you are increasing the amount of plant-based food in your diet for your health or to lose weight, swapping to vegan versions of processed foods will not yield the results you are looking for. Many of these new products, or ‘accidently vegan’ products like Oreo cookies or Ben and Jerry’s vegan ice cream are packed with refined sugars and fats as well as food-like chemicals, just like their mainstream versions.

When I changed to a whole-food plant-based diet because of my food intolerances, there was much less to tempt me away – there just wasn’t the option. Now it’s much harder and I think I would struggle if my new ways of eating weren’t firmly established. My taste-buds are definitely attuned to whole foods; anything with refined sugar in is just way too sweet and not enjoyable at all.

The good thing about more options though is that it’s much easier to make positive changes. There are more resources available too, from organisations like Viva and Veganuary, on-line programmes and Facebook groups and a whole variety of cookery books. And websites, like The Sensitive Foodie Kitchen of course. My blog has a whole variety of simple but tasty recipes that have been road-tested and work, which is most important.

If you find the world of plant-based eating for health fascinating and want to read more, my new book The Sensitive Foodie: Eat Yourself Well will be for you. Being published early 2019, it covers all sorts of information you may not have come across before as well as over 100 recipes to try yourself at home.

In the meantime, if you’ve started your own plant-based journey, congratulations for taking action that helps not only yourself but the world around you. Happy eating!





Not all calories are equal

In a quest to fight against the continual growth (literally!) of obesity in both children and adults, Public Health England have altered their healthy eating advice. Action to help improve long term health is a good thing, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, I don’t believe they are focusing on the right issue to create the level of change that’s required.

The new guidelines focus on the amount of calories consumed at each meal, broken down into a 400-600-600 parameter for breakfast, lunch and dinner. To anyone who has spent any modicum of time on a diet, this might seem a reasonable guide. But if calorie counting actually worked, would there still be such a huge problem with obesity and other weight-related issues?

I believe Public Health England are missing the point. For it’s not just the amount of calories consumed during a day that’s the issue, but the quality of the food itself that’s causing the problem. Anyone who eats processed and refined products are just not getting the nutrients they need to keep their weight under control, their digestive tract happy and their body healthy. Low calorie processed foods are bereft of the very nutrients the body needs to function well – essentially they’re full of empty calories.

One of the things I share with people who come along to my Eat Well Live Well course is that all calories are not equal. For what is a calorie in the first place? Simply put, its a unit of energy, fuel for the body to function effectively. We use different sources of energy to fuel our metabolic functions. Diet gurus will tell you that you need a certain balance of fat, protein and carbohydrate to do this, and then argue about what that balance it. Food packaging details the amount of each group, and how many calories there are contained within. But what they miss out is all the other important nutrients contained in the food, all of which are equally essential for the body to function. Micronutrients, phytonutrients and fibre all have massively important jobs to do – and many of these are lost as soon as you start processing a food source. This leads to an imbalance in the nutrient profile, which has led many people to the current state of being overfed and undernourished.

When you follow a mainly whole-food plant-based way of eating, the focus is not on calories. It’s on the whole-food! When you eat the whole product, you consume more fibre, more nutrients and – very importantly – more vitality. All of these things benefit your body. Let’s have a look how:

  • You feel full up more readily because of the high fibre content
  • You don’t experience sudden sugar lows that make you ‘hangry’ and head for the biscuit tin
  • You consume wonderful amounts of nutrients found in fresh fruit and vegetables than benefit your skin, hair and nails, as well as your health, and give you more energy and vitality
  • You naturally lose weight as your body is flooded with the right nutrient combination
  • Your body stops being under attack from toxic, highly processed chemicals and fats
  • You look after your telomeres, the key to slowing ageing, and minimise chronic health problems
  • You can reverse and even cure some chronic health problems
  • Lastly, and most importantly, you can eat loads of food!

Some health insurance companies in the US are beginning to recognise the value of using a whole-food plant-based diet as their first line treatment for ‘lifestyle’ health conditions. Here in the UK, we’re a little behind. It can be hard finding how to eat the right way, but with the right help, knowledge and support, it can be a real journey of food love.

As someone who spent many years ‘on a diet’ to lose weight, I love that I no longer have to  count calories. It’s a shame that Public Health England still think that’s the way to go. Hopefully they’ll change soon. But you don’t have to wait for them, just start making your own changes. And if you need some support, I’m always here to help.


Top tips for a healthy start to the year

It’s day two of the New Year. How are your resolutions going? You may be of the opinion it’s not worth making any as they are doomed to fail, right? Wrong! Apparently, new research suggests that 44% of people manage to stick with their resolutions six months into the year. That may not seem a lot, but as the previously generally accepted statistic is that only 8% stick to their good intentions, with many failing within the first 24 hours, that’s a major breakthrough!

A top New Year’s resolution is to eat more healthily, whether to lose weight or for a health problem. Membership for slimming groups and gyms rocket at this time of the year – great for their business plans, maybe not so good for their clientele in the long term. According to one research programme, 84% of dieters with a well known dieting club were return customers over a 5 year period (ie only 16% successfully kept their weight off over 5 years).

Diets for weight loss tend to be viewed as a short-term venture; many people slip back into their old ways of eating, only to pile the pounds back on at a scarily rapid rate. Real success comes from changing life-long habits, and (I believe most importantly) from eating delicious food that satisfies and cares for the body.

Before I discovered my food intolerances and changed to a whole-food plant-based way of eating, I was forever ‘on a diet’. Now I don’t have to be, as it turns out that the foods I used to love and crave, were also the ones that contributed to my weight gain. Dairy and yeast turn up in so many different food products; once I cut them out and started eating more fresh produce and wholegrains, the weight just naturally came off, and whilst there is a little fluctuation now and then, I generally stay the same. It’s a great side effect to have – along with reducing my risk for heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health problems! And plant-based eating is also a positive way to manage my autoimmune condition.

That’s not to say the journey has been easy – my transition to a whole food plant-based diet took some time. You only have to look back on some of my earlier blog posts to see how my recipes have changed! There’s also been some major changes over the last five years in the acceptability and availability of plant-based food, which is amazing and makes life much easier. But these changes also include an increase in vegan processed food; junk food is not going to get you healthy, no matter where it’s sourced.

So if you’re starting out on making some healthy choices for the new year, here’s a few questions to ask yourself so you can succeed and keep your resolution intact. Tomorrow, I will post my top 5 tips for eating well and helping you reach your goal. If you want to know more, or think I can help you keep your resolutions this year, then why not comment below or send me a message on the contact page here.

Questions to think about:

  1. Is this the right time of year to make major changes? The beginning of January is not always the best time to ‘go on a diet’. It’s cold, wet and dark for a start, not ideal particularly if you are planning to try juice or raw food plan (not that I’m keen on them any time of the year!). Personally, my New Years resolutions start on 6th January as it’s my birthday on 5th and am more than likely to eat out and enjoy a glass of something bubbly! So there’s no point in starting something before then. Recognise challenges and limitations and be ready for them. That’s not an excuse not to take action at all, though. It’s about being aware and making constructive choices. One of the benefits of eating a whole-food plant-based diet is that you are eating amazingly healthy food all year round, so there’s no real need for a new healthy regime anyway!
  2. Are you an all or nothing person? Know yourself. Some people can only set out with strict parameters and an all-in attitude, whilst others think they should be that way but are more suited to gradual changes. Be honest with yourself and find what works for you. This is a new way of eating and living, not a short-term project. Recognise your personality tendencies and work with them, not against them.
  3. What’s your ‘why’? This is most important. Whether you are making changes to deal with a food intolerance, a health or weight problem, to help the environment or animal welfare, or just because ‘going vegan’ is the in thing to do, you need to know your goal to get you through the tricky times. It doesn’t have to be high brow – my initial aim for going plant-based was to deal with my yeast intolerance so I could drink wine again! It may seem superficial, but it helped when temptation loomed.
  4. What support do you need to achieve your goal? If you’re diving in to a plant-based way, campaigns like Veganuary may be your inspiration, or you may find a favourite blog or cookery book, follow a Youtuber or Instagrammer. Then there’s courses and groups you can join (like my Eat Well course!). Most importantly, you need the support from the people around you, your family and friends. That’s why you need to know your why, so you can explain it to them and get them behind you.
  5. Are you prepared for obstacles? This links back to your why, but it’s also a practical issue. Despite the increase in interest in a more plant-based way of eating, it is still seen as being a fad, unsustainable or even dangerous to health (depending on which commercial interest is being challenged). It can be hard to find something quick to snack on when you’re out and about. Medical professionals may not be aware of the benefits. Family members may see it as a slight on them if you won’t eat the meal they’ve prepared for you, even if you’ve told them it will make you ill. Food is a contentious issue! Then theres your own internal obstacles, negative self-talk or deep-seated cravings that nag and tell you that just one cream bun won’t hurt. Obstacles will appear, particularly when you don’t expect them, and sometimes you may lapse. Don’t give yourself a hard time if you do. Just notice what happened and try to act differently next time. You may even find that eating something you’re trying to avoid doesn’t actually feel so good – that’s your body telling you it prefers the good stuff. It knows best, trust me.


Celebrating life on the veg

Today is World Vegan Day, a celebration of eating everything that plants have to offer. In fact, eating plant based is so awesome, the whole of November has been designated as World Vegan Month!

Veganism has become the fastest growing lifestyle movement in the UK – there are over 500,000 vegans, 3 1/2 times more than in 2006. Campaigns such as Veganuary and Meatless Monday have raised awareness and as more research reveals the damage caused by our Western diet, many are deciding to go and live life on the veg.

So what are the main reasons for this change in lifestyle?

1) Health – as the world gets fatter and sicker, many have looked to take control of their dietary choices and gone plant based. Of course, being vegan does not automatically mean healthy, as there are many highly processed, nutrient poor vegan options! That’s why I always harp on about eating whole food and plant based – that’s the healthy bit; and there’s loads of research out there that backs it up. After all, what we put in our bodies breaks down into chemical reactions at cellular level – whole foods maximise the nutrients for these reactions. So putting more of the good stuff in lessens the bad effects like heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Which leads me to number two……

2) Weight loss – when I went dairy free, I lost weight. When I went mainly plant based, I lost more, even though I was eating, and enjoying, loads. I went from always being on a diet, to never having to think about weight gain. Nice! And I’m not alone. Research revealed that people who went on a vegan diet lost 5kg more than any other form of diet. But that’s as long as junk is taken out. No wonder it’s becoming popular with Beyonce and the like!

3) Animal welfare – traditionally one of the most important tenets of veganism, factory farms and poor treatment turns many off being meat eaters and on to the veg. Documentaries like Cowspiracy and Earthlings have had a major impact on it’s viewers. Short films showing the conditions and treatment of animals in industrial slaughter houses is enough to make that steak look less appealing. Even though my journey to eating mainly plant based was motivated by my food sensitivities, the things I have learnt about the meat industry has definitely changed my view point.

4) Environment – going plant based is the single most direct effect a person can have on the environment. Producing food from animals is so costly to the planet, using up massive amounts of land and water, and contributing more green house gases than transport. That’s why campaigns like Meatless Monday are important for our world – less contributes so much more!

Everyone has their own reason for going more plant based; the internet has really opened up the debate and this increase in numbers is making it more mainstream. We delve into this topic in more detail in my Eat Well Live Well course, starting again in the New Year if you’re interested in finding out more.

So why not have your own little celebration, raise a glass of (vegan) wine and enjoy living life on the veg!

A weighty challenge

Do you always feel like you’re on a diet? Lose weight then put it all back on again, lured back into you’re old way, getting stuck in a dieting yoyo?  I’ve tried most of them during my lifetime, – Atkins (lasted 48 hours – it made me so ill!), weight watchers, Rosemary Connolly’s fat free, food combining to name a few. Most of the time, I had some success and would lose some weight, but always managed to put it back on again.

Whilst never being massively overweight, I’ve also never been particularly small and never felt comfortable. Looking back, I realise not feeling right was more to do with not eating the right foods for me, rather than being too heavy and needing to ‘diet’. But it was being on a particular diet – Carol Vorderman’s 28 day detox plan – that made me realise there was more to this eating malarky that meets the eye. This plan is plant based, cutting out any food source that can cause inflammation in the body (including wheat, alcohol and caffeine). Lacking the understanding I have now, it was hard, but I felt so good. More energy, less headaches and generally lighter in body and spirit. But I didn’t continue with it long term, so slowly the weight started creeping back on.

It was however, the start of my journey to wellness through a plant based whole food diet. And once I applied the principles properly, I lost weight without even trying. But not so much that I’m an unhealthy size. I’ve plateaued at a healthy 57kg and eat loads more now than I used to, it’s just all whole and plant. I’ve seen this in others too (my daughter lost 10kg over 6 months, a colleague at work must have lost half his body weight over the last year or so), and it’s backed up by research; at the Annal Meeting of the Obesity Society in America last week, research comparing different diets revealed that a fully plant based diet lead to the greatest weight loss without having to restrict calories* and The Permanente Journal states that current research is so strong that a plant based diet should be recommended to improve overall health and well being, including weight loss**

clogger burger
A Clogger Burger!

Although he enjoys the food I cook for him, my husband has been reluctant to go fully plant based; he does enjoy his meat and cheese! But a month away living in a hotel in Mexico eating too much meat and dairy not only expanded his waist line a bit too much, it made him feel pretty unwell in general. This was followed by our family holiday in the US, with large portions and gut-busting burgers. So much food! So much so, that on the way home, he declared his intention to eat a plant based diet for a month to kick start some weight loss (96kg at the mo) and a training plan to cycle up Ventoux (mountain in France) next year (see his blog Four days in and he’s doing really well, commenting on how he’s eating so much more than he would normally. The weekend is going to be his first challenge though – a day trip to watch football in Birmingham with the boys, which usually means many beers, burgers and pies. Beer is the first challenge, as like wine, many brands use animal products for fining (see my blog post Luckily, the Barnivore website has come to the rescue, and even has an app which he rapidly downloaded.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how he gets on with eating this way over the next month – I know it works, but social situations make it challenging at times. Hopefully more and more people will get on board and reap the health benefits of eating plant based; once mainstream, and easily accessible, eating out and socialising will become less challenging. And my man will be more streamlined!*

Busy, busy,busy!!

I can’t believe it’s over a month since my last post. I knew that life would be busy settling back in to the UK, but it really has been non-stop. Finally moved in to the new family home but still surrounded by boxes, things are beginning to settle down a bit. Even better, the internet man came today! So I’m back on line properly and can give the poor much-in-demand dongle and my old and rather temperamental netbook a rest!Despite being busy with the move and work, I have still been cooking and experimenting, so there’s lots to come!

Recently, I have noticed how the benefits of a wholefood, plant based diet are becoming more mainstream – it seems to be a bit of a Hollywood fad too. But not only does this way of eating help keep chronic diseases at bay, it’s great for helping you look young. In fact, since I’ve been eating this way, I’ve had comments about how I look  younger now than when I left for India 3 years ago, had I had botox (!!??) and someone thought I was 11 years younger than I actually am. This of course made my day, year and possibly lifetime!

Research published in the last month highlights the negative aspect of eating processed foods such as sausages, pies and bacon  Another one has found that full fat dairy reduces the chance of recovery from breast cancer And of course there is the wonderful horse meat scandal that has affected most of Europe in some way. The good side of this is that people seem to have started to think about their eating habits and buying less processed food, plus the larger super markets say they are changing how they source their food. This may or may not last. Ultimately, though, it’s down to each one of us to chose how we eat – and in an expensive economy, a plant based diet helps the finances as well as the waistline!

My daughter and I went to Vegefest in Brighton at the weekend, an exhibition about vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. It was heaving, which was great, and had a huge range of stalls offering various veg and vegan friendly products with lots of lovely free samples. Stalls with lunch options to buy wafted gloriously mouthwatering smells throughout the hall; we indulged in some vegan tapas, but to be honest I could have just stuffed myself with chocolate all day and not need anything else! Being a cake fiend, fabulous vegan cupcakes were a must, and we did buy a box to bring home, reluctantly sharing them with the boys! Gorgeous.After we left, I got to thinking about the products available. Yummy, yes. Healthy, maybe not.

One of the Vegefest tag lines is about promoting a healthy plant based, wholefood diet. Out of all the stalls there, only one sold vegetables (apart from the grow your own mushroom bag stall which I thought looked great but freaked my daughter out – are mushrooms weird?).  There were supplements, replacements and alternatives to dairy and meat (including some gorgeous coconut based milk – Kara. Definitely worth a try!), but eating to heal and for health is not about eating yet more, if different processed food. No matter how gorgeous a vegan cupcake may be, it’s still full of sugar and fat.

So what’s the answer?  Man (and woman of course) cannot eat cake alone. I’ve realised the 80/20 rule is pretty good guide to go by. Eating properly for 80% of the time, and enjoy the not so healthy and sometimes indulgently gorgeous 20% of the time. Dairy free indulgence, of course. So, where are those cupcakes then…….?