Are plant-based diets really better for you?

21 Jul 2023 02:43pm
Photo soure: 123rf
Photo soure: 123rf

The rising trends of plant-based diets globally have led to a pathway for Malaysians to adopt the trend as well.

Take a look around and you’ll find a growing appetite for plant-based alternatives. Walk into the supermarket, there are plant-based nuggets or burger patties you can find in the frozen section. Elsewhere, there are local cafes providing plant-based options for customers.

Even in a country where meat is still “king” in the Malaysian diet, the demand for plant-based food is increasing.

The food and beverage industry has very well jumped on the bandwagon to cater to the demand. Companies like Nestle now serve plant-based meat alternatives under Harvest Gourmet, which you can easily find at your local supermarket.

Two years ago, the food and beverage giant set up its first plant-based production facility in the country.

But the question remains, is plant-based food really better for us in the long run?

One of the most common perceptions of plant-based diets is that one can’t get enough protein and nutrients by eating only plants.

Another common belief is that plant-based meals are not filling and can lead to hunger faster compared to eating a meal that includes animal protein.

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But these are all nothing more than misconceptions.

Nestle Malaysia nutritionist Leong Ven Luan said a well-planned plant-based diet will actually be able to meet your nutritional needs. It is also advised that vegans or vegetarians, consume a variety of beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds to ensure adequate protein intake.

In addition, fortified plant-based foods or supplementation can be considered to help increase the intake of nutrients commonly lacking in plant-based diets such as iron, vitamin B12, and D.

“A well-balanced plant-based meal can be very satisfying. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are naturally high in fibre which will keep you full longer. Not only that, these foods are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients,” she said.

Nestle Malaysia chief executive officer Juan Aranols said even though meat still dominates a large portion of the Malaysian diet, there is a growing number of those who are incorporating plant-based foods as part of their diet, and it will be a much more frequent choice over time.

“Plant-based food are cholesterol free, have very low-fat content and they contain more fibre,” he said.

Adopting a plant-based diet isn’t only good for the body, it’s good for the environment too.

“A plant-based alternative is also much more efficient in terms of environmental footprint.

“Shifting to a plant-based diet is a positive action towards reducing our carbon footprint and acting on climate change.

“Green trends, consistent education, and self-awareness are crucial to a mindset shift amongst Malaysians, be it in urban or suburban living, in the longer term,” said Aranols.

Nestle Malaysia chief executive officer Juan Aranols
Nestle Malaysia chief executive officer Juan Aranols

Realistically, we are confronted with the ever-increasing costs of living. Plant-based diets are perceived as more expensive than common omnivorous diets. Does this affect the growth trajectory of plant-based food in Malaysia, as the demand for non-plant-based food is still high?

“Plant-based diet is particularly attractive to the growing health-conscious consumer segments, often young adults, urban and a bit more affluent vs the average. These are the ones becoming aware of the health benefits and appreciate the much lower environmental impact.

“In Malaysia, the plant-based market was estimated to be valued at USD$30 million in 2019 and we project it to grow robustly in years to come.

Although still in the early stages, plant-based food is part of the culture and traditions in many countries in Asia. Think about tofu, tempeh, just to mention a few examples.

“That’s why we think that adoption by consumers in Malaysia will develop consistently over time,” he said.

But is plant-based frozen food really healthier than the usual processed food made from chicken, meat or seafood?

“Plant-based meat alternatives are generally lower in saturated fat and cholesterol free as they are made mainly from plants and vegetables.

“Harvest Gourmet products, in particular, are made with high-quality ingredients blended and mixed in ways not too different from how you would prepare at home, just on a much larger scale.

“There is clear scientific research documenting that eating a diet abundant of plant-based foods positively benefits our health by lowering the risk of developing coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes contributing to higher life expectancy,” he said.


Meanwhile, check out these plant-based recipes that use ingredients by Harvest Gourmet, created by consultant dietitian Indra Balaratnam.

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2 tablespoons ginger

1/4 cup gochujang sauce

1/4 tomato puree

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons white vinegar

2 tablespoons cooking oil

1 teaspoon spring onion

1 teaspoon sesame seeds

1 small carrot


1. Air fry the Harvest Gourmet Nuggets in the air fryer at 180c for 11 minutes.

2. To make the glaze, gently heat the cooking oil in a pan and saute the minced ginger till fragrant.

3. Add in the tomato puree, gochujang paste, honey and rice vinegar.

4. Still well to combine and cook on low heat till the sauce gently simmers.

5. Turn off the heat. Toss in the air-fried nuggets with the spicy glaze to evenly coat.

6. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and finely sliced spring onion. Serve immediately with an assortment of carrot, cucumber, and capsicum sticks.

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300 grams of Harvest Gourmet Stir Fry Mince

2 teaspoons cooking oil

1 onion

2 and 1/2 centimetres of ginger

2 cloves garlic

1 spring red chili

1/4 cup tomato puree

1/2 cup peas

1/2 cup carrot

1/2 cup eggplant

1 small tomato

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons mint leaves

1/2 level teaspoons mushroom seasoning


1. Heat the cooking oil in a pan and fry the onion, ginger, and garlic till fragrant

2. Add in the sliced chili and Harvest Gourmet mince. Cook for about six minutes till lightly browned.

3. Add in the spices, carrot, eggplant, tomato puree, and water and stir well to combine with the mince. Cook for another three minutes.

4. Stir in the green peas and heat through. Season with a dash of mushroom seasoning (optional).

5. Lastly, stir in the chopped mint leaves and tomatoes. Serve immediately.

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