Eco Tips

Swooping to a plant based diet 

  • Plant based milks: some have added vitamins, typically A, D, B2, and B12, as well as various minerals like calcium and iron; protein levels are much less than in dairy milk but few western diets are deficient in this; choose milks that are produced from plants grown in Europe as this minimises their carbon footprint; if the milk splits when added to hot drinks, you might want to choose a barista grade milk; you can buy oat milk in glass bottles and reduce packaging – eg from Milk and More.  1 litre of oat milk has a carbon footprint of 0.9kg as opposed to 3kg for dairy milk. Oat milk also uses less water and less land.
  • Plant based substitutes for yogurt, Greek style yogurt, crème fraîche, double and single creams, are also available and can be used for cooking too. 
  • As well as margarine, you can also buy vegan butter. This has a similar taste and texture to butter and is good for baking where the recipe calls for dairy butter.
  • Vegan mascarpone can be made by blending a 300g block of silken tofu with a carton of Oatly whippable custard.
  • Plant based cheeses are varied. Violife feta style cheese has a pleasant taste as does their mature cheddar. The latter can be grilled but tends to shrink as it is bubbles. Nut based cheeses can better mimic the texture of cheese. 
  • Coconut milk adds a pleasant taste to soup and gives a silky creamy texture. Coconut milk also makes for a good rice pudding.
  • Aqua faba – the water in which dried beans have been cooked – has a gelatinous texture and can be used as an egg substitute. It works well for making mayonnaise and meringues. You may sometimes need to add a little xanthan gum for extra stiffness. To replace eggs in baking, use commercially made egg replacement powder (eg from Super Cook), aqua faba or chia seeds mixed with water (1:3 per egg). The chia seeds swell and become glutinous.
  • Tofu can make an acceptable substitute for scrambled eggs but needs suitable flavourings such as pepper, fine herbs etc. 
  • Replace meat protein with a variety of beans, peas, pulses and nuts. You will spoilt for choice: in our cupboard at present we have whole and split yellow peas, ditto green peas, blue peas, Carlin peas, black badger peas, split faba beans, green and orange lentils, cashew nuts, walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts and pistachios. The beans, peas and pulses are UK grown sourced and sold by Hodmedod’s.            Lentils have a carbon footprint of 0.9 per kg compared with 6.9kg for chicken and 27kg for beef – and needs less land and water.
  • Lentils make a good substitute for mince. Puréed peas or beans make a good sauce to mix with pasta or vegetables. 
  • Combine beans and pulses with grains – eg wheat, rice, corn –  or with grain-based foods such as pasta and bread. The different amino acids from each will combine to give a better overall quality protein intake.
  • Replace meat or fish with tofu (made from soya beans) or sextant (made from wheat protein). These products offer a variety of different textures to meals.
  • Include yeast extract and yeast flakes in your cooking to ensure a good intake of vitamin B. Opt for ones that include B12 which is hard to obtain from plant sources. For iron eat beans and legumes, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, nuts and seeds, and wholegrain cereals and breads. For calcium eat nuts (especially almonds) and seeds (esp. chia), figs, leafy greens, beans and pulses.
  • For vitamin D you may wish to consider a supplement. Sunshine is a good source of vitamin D but even so many people in the UK are deficient.
  • Vegetables and fruit are always important for flavour, texture and nutrition. But not all fruit and vegetables are equal. Out of season strawberries, blue berries, and asparagus for example are not sustainable and are often brought in by air.  Avocados and mangoes, amongst others, consume vast amounts of water as they grow, and such crops divert water from other essential uses. 
  • Eat food that is in season and try out unusual items such as salsify, cardoons, quinces etc.
  • Organically produced produce is preferable to non organic if only because the the excess nitrates from fertilisers runs off the fields and polluted water ways. And insecticides and herbicides are a real threat to biodiversity – including in our own gardens. 
  • Locally produced food is again preferable, reducing air/lorry miles and reducing the length of the supply chain.

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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