5 tips to move to a plant-based diet in Japan

There are many great benefits about moving to a plant-based diet.

First of all removing meat, dairy products and eggs from your diet will help to limit your impact on the environment as this industry is responsible for a big part of greenhouse gases emissions because of the deforestation due to this industry and methane emitted by the animals. It also has a huge impact on water ressources as significant quantities of water are used to grow the cereals that will feed the livestock. As a consequence of that, big patches of lands are deforested in order to create monocultures to feed all this livestock. There are also many great health benefits for not eating meat-based products which usually lead to cholesterol issues and higher risks of cancer. 

As for fishes, due to over-fishing, the marine ecosystem is being severely disrupted. On top of that, fishnets that are lost or simply frequently abandoned, represents a huge portion of the oceans plastic pollution.

Finally, by refusing to consume animal-based products, you making the choice not to take part in the animal suffering. 

Noriko Shindo, the co-founder and CEO of Veggino, who we had the chance to interview for our second episode of « Conversations with Green Changemakers in Japan », is sharing with us her top 5 tips to move to a plant-based diet.

Veggino is a bi-lingual non-for-profit website and group that aims to spread a plant-based lifestyle in Japan. If you want to know more about plant-based diet in Japan and find some cool recipes, do not hesitate to check their website or Instagram account.

plant-based diet in Japan

1/ Be conscious of your impact and know how to best reduce it

Some people find it easy to go from an omnivorous diet to a vegan diet from one day to an other. However, for most people, it might seem a bit overwhelming.

If you fall into that category, don’t be scared, it will be a fun journey. Start by setting yourself some challenges and reducing your meat intake, as this has the most impact on the environment. It can be “Vegan Monday”, no meat in the evenings, no meat at home etc.

While you should aim to remove all animal-based products from your diet, there are some which have a lot more impact than others, which you could choose to focus on as a first step.

In terms of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) as well as water usage, beef is definitely the one to drop off your diet. You can find below more details on the GHG and water impact of different foods.

If you want to be sure that the products you are buying do not contain animal-base ingredients, you can use the Facebook group Is it Vegan? (Japan) to check with the community. In most cases, when you find エキス (extract) written on a food packaging, it indicates that the ingredients are animal derived.

Bear in mind that Japanese government doesn’t make it mandatory for food companies to list all their ingredients, so some processed foods could still have animal-based ingredients while them not being listed on the ingredient list. The best way to avoid this happening is to stick to a healthy whole foods diet and avoid processed food.

water impact of foods

2/ Swap dairy products for plant-based alternatives when cooking

Moving to plant-based ingredients when cooking is actually quite easy in Japan and even more so in the recent months.

You can find soy milk in every supermarkets and Aeon has also started selling various types of organic plant-based milks and products. 

When cooking, you can also easily replace the following:

  • Fresh cream with silken tofu or plant-based milk
  • Butter with vegetal oil
  • Eggs with ripped bananas, apple puree or tapioca flour, or aquafaba for egg whites

If you are looking for recipe inspiration, check out Veggino plant-based recipes. Here is a selection:

3/ Supplement yourself in B12 and Vitamin D

With the exception of Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D, all other essential nutrients are available in abundance in a plant-based diet.

Most omnivores are actually deficient in Vitamin B12 despite getting traces of it through meat consumption. This is obtained through eating the animals that are fed feed which is often fortified with the Vitamin.

As for Vitamin D, it’s a similar story where even many omnivores today are deficient. However, as animals synthesise this vitamin (just like we humans do), humans can get some Vitamin D through an omnivorous diet that includes meat.

A great way to get started easily on a plant-based diet and not miss out on these is to make sure you eat a balanced diet, and watch that you get some Vitamin B12 and D. This is easy if you take plant-based supplements, or if you prefer to rely on whole foods, Vitamin B12 can be found in Nutritional yeast and other fortified foods, while Vitamin D is all around us on a sunny day!

4/ Discover delicious vegetarian and vegan friendly restaurants 

Vegan or vegetarian friendly restaurants are not that common yet in Japan, or at least they are not as widely renown or advertised as in some other countries, but you can still find delicious adresses.

Local websites like Vege Project, Vegewel, and the old-school Google search are great ways to get started. It is always good to check the reviews of a restaurant on Google Maps as you might discover there that some spot while not being vegan or vegetarian, do offer some great plant-based dishes.

Happy Cow, an international website that’s great for this, is unfortunately not the best quality in Japan (although recently they are getting better!).

Veggino also tag a lot of new finds on their Instagram. Other than that, it helps to have some vegan friends who live in a similar area to you.

5/ Don’t stress and don’t compare yourself to others  

We each have our own lifestyle and preferences. Going of some products will be harder for some people vs others. Similarly, even a fully plant-based person with a zero-waste lifestyle is adding some strain to our planet.

Indeed as long as we are a living being on this planet, we have an impact. The goal is therefore to minimise that impact. If everyone made more conscious, manageable choices in consumption, that alone would still be a massive collective progress.

Additional tip for expecting mothers

All people and all pregnancies vary. Check your blood test results regularly to make sure you are not missing out on any nutrients.

If you were already plant-based before pregnancy, be cautious but stay on the same diet if you see it is working for you and the baby.

If you are pregnant and you want to switch to a plant-based diet, make sure to discuss that with your doctor/OBGYN so that they know you are making a change and can monitor your health accordingly. It is actually probably better to wait for the pregnancy to be over to transition as there are so many variables to pay attention to during a pregnancy.

Interestingly though, the “foods to avoid during pregnancy” are all animal-based. So the only things to be careful are actually the same as whether you are pregnant on an omnivores diet – avoid the foods you should avoid, and make sure you are getting enough of what you need (e.g., folic acid, protein iron etc).

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