This November is World Vegan Month and as such, it’s a great time to consider the potential benefits of a meat free diet when it comes to achieving results at work.
Like any good fringe movement, veganism has well and truly infiltrated the mainstream with The Vegan Society estimating there are around 600,000 vegans in Great Britain alone. People decide to change to a vegan diet for a range of reasons, whether it’s for the health benefits, the ethical and environmental argument or even a combination of all of these.
The key tenant of veganism is abstaining from using any food or product that comes from an animal and while technically not the same thing, a plant based diet is often the outcome which follows a short stint adhering to a vegan lifestyle.
With a constantly fluctuating attitude to food, it’s important for workplaces to ensure that there’s enough creativity and choice to support people’s changing diets, whether they be plant-based, vegan, vegetarian or even dairy free. At Bennett Hay for example, we’ve seen a massive uptake of dairy-free coffees in our workplace cafes (over 20%) and as such, have introduced a number of initiatives to meet changing needs.
In November, we run a ‘vegan signatures’ campaign, highlighting vegan options which our guests can sample including a selection of vegan wraps, cakes, snacks, desserts, brunch pots and deli salads. There is also a vegan hot lunch at least once a week and pop-ups with exciting street-style food, including our famous carrot dog!
The increasing popularity of plant based foods is clear to see, but what effect can this diet have on our ability to think and work and how can we use it to our advantage to increase productivity in the workplace?
A lack of protein is often cited as one of the negatives of a plant based diet as meat provides a high volume ratio compared to plant sources , however there are alternatives which will do just as good a job without any of the side effects.
Legumes, such as lentils, soybeans, chickpeas and kidney beans are great sources of protein and they have the added benefit of being low in fat, but high in fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Having a healthy digestive system means a decent intake of dietary fibre is needed, around 30g per day to be exact; plants provide this nutrient, whereas meat doesn’t.
Substituting meat with legumes and other plant sources of fibre such as green leafy veg as well as keeping the skin on your veggies when cooking them can play a positive role in stress management. There is also emerging research looking at the gut-brain microbiota and its role in treating conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, depression and autism.
Whole wheat, brown rice and lentils are all complex carbohydrates, with lots of fibre, that are broken down by the body more slowly, making you feel fuller for longer. This can help to manage your snacking throughout the rest of the day. Lean vegetarian protein like tofu is a good lunch option and if you do feel hungry, then try to opt for raw nuts, like almonds which are rich in monounsaturated fats. Nuts can contribute a high level of calories to the diet so it’s important to consume the right portion size, and for almonds its 1 2 3 – one portion = 23 nuts!
When you think of eating healthily, you would be forgiven for not giving much thought to the brain, however when it comes to productivity, it’s of course one of the key areas to consider. Keeping your digestive system healthy can have a positive impact on your brain, as it affects the gut brain axis. This axis is how the brain and gut interact, so eating more plants which contain great sources of fibre and vitamins and minerals can help you improve cognitive function, memory, decision-making ability, mental response time, and even mood.
The health benefits and increase in productivity that come with a plant based diet is clear to see, but it doesn’t necessarily mean cutting out meat all together. It’s important to eat a diet with lots of colour, so if that means a few pieces of meat every so often then so be it. This indicates variety and therefore a higher level of different vitamins and minerals your body is getting.
Aim to make half of each meal fruit and/or vegetables (this includes pulses and legumes), the rest with lean protein and wholegrain carbs and you’ll be well on your way to cutting down on the meat and increasing productivity. Now that’s what I call food for thought!
Alistair Day, executive chef and Kate Taylor, nutritionist both at catering company Bennett Hay