It's a multi-million dollar industry that's slowly growing on South Africans who are opting for a healthier lifestyle and better eating habits.
Plant-based food included fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Basically no animal by product.
The health benefits include weight loss, increased energy and low cholesterol. Experts also say it is the only diet that can reverse heart disease.
Data released by American based organisation, the Plant Based Food Association, shows an overall growth of eight percent in plant based food since last year, compared to a decline of 0.2 percent in the same period of other foods including dairy, meat, produce and frozen foods.
Suddenly, everyone from celebrities to millennials are feasting on “rabbit food”, and even restaurants are getting in on the action.
The Hungry Herbivore is a Cape Town restaurant that’s 100 percent vegan and specialises in artisanal plant-based foods and snacks.
Co-owner Amy Scott says they have seen an increase in interest since starting their business in 2014. “People are becoming more educated and aware and this has encouraged plant based diets.
"Simple concepts like meatless Monday are also pushing the movement forward. I think people are more open to trying a plant based diet than before.”
Scott says plant- based foods have become more accessible and while people can produce their own foods, retailers and restaurants catering to vegans also make it convenient.
She says some of the biggest misconception is that a plant-based diet lacks protein.
“There are so many ingredients rich in proteins which are easy to digest like chickpeas, lentils, spinach, tofu, seitan, quinoa to name a few,” Scott says.
“My friends and family believe I eat rabbit food- carrot sticks and celery. I think people just aren't aware of the options that one can create from plant-based ingredients. It takes a little more planning but once you get the hang of it, you can make a decent, tasteful plate in 10 minutes.”
Scott says while the health benefits may differ for individuals, the diet helped her lose weight and “got rid of frequent crippling migraines”.
Plant-based nutrition consultant and chiropractor, Dr Paul Palmer agrees that a plant-based diet has many health benefits.
“The main thing is the amazing ability to lose weight and when I say lose weight I mean to lose fat,” he says.
“In a study done with over 60 000 people, the only group of people with a normal body mass index (BMI) were vegans. The highest BMI were meat eaters.”
Dr Palmer says the diet can decrease the effects of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
“The main aspect for a plant-based diet being healthy is decreased heart disease, diabetes, cancer, decrease weight and it improves functioning of the bowel.
"The only diet ever shown to reverse heart disease is a strict vegan diet. For diabetes, I did this in my own practice with my patients with type two diabetes, within a month the patient didn’t need medication any more.”
The Durban based doctor says while South Africans are becoming more aware of the benefits, we are lagging behind, compared to other countries.
“The education is improving and retailers are making more vegan products available.
“People are definitely exploring it a lot more but I (don’t) think it’s growing as fast as it is in America and especially in the UK. We are always a few years behind, however we could start to lead on this front.”
Palmer says the country’s heavily meat based culture plays a huge role.
“The one only thing standing in our way is the cultural side of South Africa,” he says. “It’s hard to play the health argument when people say ‘this is my culture’, it may be your culture, but it doesn't mean your culture was right. In my opinion we can't run on ancient culture when our health is being compromised.”
Palmer says if a change in people’s behaviour towards a healthier lifestyle is going to come, it will start with the millennials.
“The millennials are more open to it. The younger generations are very good at making connections, whereas with the older generations you can't ask the questions- if it is on your plate, this is what you will eat.
"However these days, the younger generation are more open to taking a stance and making changes, where the older generation is more set in their ways so it’s harder to make changes and they are more open from the compassion side of it.”
Whether this form of eating is a diet or a lifestyle depends on what you get out of it, Palmer says.
“It’s mainly known as a diet, the definition of veganism means to exclude as far as possible the exploitation and suffering of animals. But I think the eating activity is a diet. I would say it depends on what you want out of it, if you are a compassionate person and do it for the morals and the ethics then it is lifestyle.
"If you are using it for health, then it’s a tool.”