Plant-based foods – love them or hate them?

I was browsing my Facebook feed and I saw a Christmas food advert from Tesco. I wasn’t sure if I’d been retargeted via Facebook, as I’d visited their store recently to order some groceries.

Interestingly the first comment that caught my eye was “no fresh food then” with an unsmiley face as shown above. On display was a cheesy couple in their Christmas sweaters standing proudly in front of two boxes of Pringles and their Wicked plant-based range of foods. I was intrigued.

Tesco Christmas 2021 Facebook advert

Christmas Facebook advert Photo Credit: Tesco

Wow Tesco is advocating that we start thinking about plant-based foods – even at Christmas when we typically go on a wild goose chase (pardon the pun) trying to find a turkey small enough to fit into our oven. Given the supply chain warnings about not having enough turkeys to go around this year, I thought maybe Tesco knows they can’t supply the birds, so let’s push the veg instead.

I then thought I’d try and find out more so I went on the Wicked website to read more about this range of plant-based foods and couldn’t find anything out about what is actually in their food. Great branding, great videos, great social media, but where could I find out what’s in their food? I’ve since had a reply from their customer service to tell me that all I need to do is go on their website. I’m not sure they’ve read my email – maybe it was read by an automated bot, rather than a real person but I can find no list of ingredients anywhere on their UK website.

I then thought I’d go to the Tesco website. They’ve been working with Wicked since 2018 so I thought all I’d need to do would be to put “plant-based foods” into their search engine. The search results were hilarious. I got Miracle Grow fertiliser for my plants and two cans of Tesco vegetable soup. When I tried to search using “plant-based food” I got mostly cat and dog food.

I thought to be fair I’d try the same search with the other retailers. Morrisons returned Alpro soya desserts and a canned lentil bolognese. Sainsbury’s showed vegan festive selection boxes, Pringles, crisps and houmous. Waitrose offered olives, humous, and canned soups. An Aldi search returned tupperware boxes!! Maybe time for more artificial intelligence to refine the online search algorithms and focus on the customer journey required.

I’m all in favour of plant-based foods and try now to eat more veggie-based meals. I listened to Tim Spector on Radio 4 recently talking about trying to eat 30 plants a week as a way to diversify the bugs in my gut. Having read a couple of his books “Spoon-Fed” and “The Diet Myth,” I’ve now been convinced about the importance of doing this. I’m also now eating more fermented foods and those with more live bacteria, such as kefir. I’ve not got around to making my own kefir yet, but I think I’ll start to experiment.

My upcoming book to be published by Earn Your Health publications in Spring 2022 will be covering insights on why we’re getting so obese, and a lot of my discoveries about the Human Microbiome Project and all their recent findings. This research project was set up in 2007 by the US Institutes of Health. It started as an extension of the Human Genome Project and is now a worldwide research initiative and is identifying new ways to determine health and predisposition to diseases.[i]

I was pleased to read during my book research that my chances of living longer are even enhanced if I choose plants over meat.[ii] I’m not sure I can give up the roast lamb or chicken just yet but I’m experimenting with lots of different vegetables. However what I’m finding is that it does take considerably longer to prepare vegetables. I think I’ll have to train myself to learn how to use my food processor blades so that will take away some of the effort. This could explain the increasing popularity of packaged plant-based foods for those that are too busy to chop and slice.

I was thinking about all my recent discoveries. I’ve just finished Chapter 8 which looks at the food industry and whether they’ve been a friend or foe when it comes to obesity. I was surprised to read that in 1997 the World Health Organisation (WHO) reclassified the Body Mass Index score which defines whether we’re overweight or not. They reduced the threshold from a score of 27 to 25 and suddenly many of us were classified as overweight and so the slimming and yo-yo dieting madness began. A great opportunity for both the food and pharmaceutical industries to sell their latest slimming foods or drugs.

I may be a sceptic but from what I’ve read so far there is much more the food industry needs to be doing to encourage us to eat more healthily. We do need to be persuaded to eat more fruit and vegetables. I’ve realised that the real enemy is not fat but refined carbohydrates and sugar which send our insulin levels sky high, and are a real problem when eaten to excess.

I’m a firm believer that unless the government creates more of a level playing field, few food companies are going to change for the better without more legislation and consumer pressure. Whilst we’re definitely seeing some glimmers of hope as the food retailers take all the sugary impulse buys away from the till areas, there’s much more they need to do. They could reformulate foods for toddlers to ensure that they meet the World Health Organisation standards and encourage us to eat more healthy foods. Whether packaged plant-based foods are as good for you as fresh ones, is another question to be dealt with in another blog, when I’ve managed to find out what’s actually in the packaged variety.

[i] The Human Microbiome Project 17 October 2007 · Peter J. Turnbaugh, Ruth E. Ley, Micah Hamady, Claire M. Fraser-Liggett, Rob Knight & Jeffrey I. Gordon

[ii] Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality October 2016 Mingyang Song, MD, ScD1,2; Teresa T. Fung, ScD2,3; Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD2,4,5