The Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

Whether it’s for ideological or health-related reasons, more and more people are straying away from meat as a source of food. Veganism is now more popular than ever, and so are the options for those who have a vegan lifestyle. There’s an increasing body of evidence on the beneficial effects of plant-based food. If you were still on the fence about the idea of going full vegan, here are some of the benefits of adopting a plant-based diet.

This week’s Guest Blog is from Carpenter’s Nursery

It’s Now Easier than Ever

While being able to find vegan-friendly outlets and restaurants was still a challenge not too long ago, things have changed greatly. Veganism is in right now, and anybody thinking about going vegan will find that there are no a number of options with most restaurants offering at least one or two dishes.

More people are also aware of the effects of food production on our energy consumption and are turning to veganism as a more sustainable option. That’s why some establishments like the Potting Shed cafe take things a step further and will not only serve plant-based cuisine but will source produce as locally as possible. Climate change is a pressing issue and making sure that our food is sustainably sourced will continue to be a hot topic for years to come.

Weight Loss Benefits

One of the downsides of meat is how calorie dense it is as a food source. The same can’t be said about plant-based foods. The only food that is close in terms of calorie density to meat is avocado. And even then, these calories come from highly beneficial fats that enhance our overall health.

Losing weight on a plant-based diet is not only easier but more satisfying as well. You’ll be able to enjoy a plateful at every meal without overthinking your calories. And if you add the right amount of protein, you’ll feel full much longer.

Good for the Heart

While some people might see vegan diets as limiting, the benefits you get in terms of health can be more than worth it. One area where plant-based diets are particularly beneficial is when it comes to heart health. Several studies have shown the positive effects adopting a plant-based diet can have on the cardiovascular system. People who have a diet free of animal products have been shown to have lower chances of developing heart issues. In addition to that, going for plant-based foods could reduce your chances of getting high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure as well.

Vegan Food is Delicious

Going vegan doesn’t mean you’ll have to deprive yourselves of all the edible joys of life. There are tons of great things we enjoy that are already vegan. Things like crisps, bagels, falafel, cola drinks and skittles are all vegan options. And food companies are doing everything in their power to cater to the vegan demographic, which means even more delicious vegan options to come.


Going for a plant-based diet is definitely a good choice if you want to lose fat, feel better, and make a positive impact on the world around you.

Don’t Let Go!

Plastic Free St Albans‘ new Don’t Let Go! campaign and petition is inspired by the Marine Conservation Society, and seeks to prevent local balloon releases, and to discourage the use of balloons by businesses as promotional materials.

rubber jellyfishpicUpdate! Film screening of Rubber Jellyfish Thurs 28th March at The Inn on the Park, St Albans. Brand new Australian documentary about the environmental damage caused by balloons. Tickets £6/2 conc are limited. You have the option to dine as well.. Book early see more information and booking here.

Thanks to Emma Tyers from Plastic Free St Albans for our guest blog this week – all about balloons…

Why do we want to stop this?

When you let a balloon go, you’re littering upwards. Why is this acceptable, when most of us wouldn’t dream of dropping litter on the ground?

Latex balloons are often marketed as biodegradable, but in practice take many years to break down. They also often have plastic ribbons attached to them, which do not biodegrade.


Thanks to Ver Valley Society for photograph.

Balloons and their ribbons are very frequently found as river and beach litter, where they kill wildlife. Sea creatures and birds mistake them for jellyfish, blocking their intestines, and animals get entangled in the ribbons.

It’s also a waste of helium, a finite resource needed for medical purposes.

Are we just out to spoil your fun?

No! By all means use balloons for parties, but please make sure you hold onto them, and dispose of them correctly. This campaign is focussed on preventing mass littering events, not spoiling 6 year olds’ birthdays.

If you do however want to stop using balloons completely, there are lots of lovely, creative alternatives available. Check out the Balloons Blow website for ideas.

We need your help!

Sign the petition here to Herts County Council, to ban balloon releases on their land.

In line with the MCS Don’t Let Go! campaign, we have included sky lanterns too, because they also pose a threat to animals through ingestion and entanglement, and the additional hazard of fire.

Businesses, Schools, organisations: Sign up to the Don’t Let Go Campaign

  • If you run a local business, school or other organisation, please email Plastic Free St Albans to sign up to the Don’t Let Go campaign, and include the following in the Comment field (amend as appropriate):

“We pledge to permanently stop balloon and sky lantern releases at events under our control, and to not use balloons as promotional materials for our business”

balloonprincess ver valley

Photo taken by Ver Valley Society while clearing the River Ver.


The Easiest Food to Grow in a Sustainable Vegetable Garden

Sustainability is the order of the day, and more people are aware of the effects of traditional gardening on the environment. The goal of sustainable gardening is to reduce the impact of pesticides, herbicides and excessive energy consumption on our planet.

Many thanks to our guest writer today – on sustainable food growing –  James Carpenter from Carpenter’s Nursery

While maintaining a sustainable garden is more of a challenge, it is possible to have one without a ton of work. Here are the easiest foods to grow in a sustainable vegetable garden.


There are several reasons you see tomatoes in almost every garden including container gardens. One is that they’re so versatile. Use them as the base for a sauce, toss them in salads or eat them off the vine like the fruit they really are. The other advantage is that they’re easy to grow once the seeds have taken root. Many people love cherry tomatoes because they produce fruit so fast. And there’s the fact that they grow vertically, a serious advantage when you have a container garden.

tomatoes sustainable vegetable garden carpenters nursery


Shallots can be grown in pots as long as they receive full sun, and they don’t need much to help them grow. All they need is rich and loose soil to thrive. They can also be a great substitute for onions, but require much less space and care.


If you want to start a kitchen garden, herbs are one of the best choices. Parsley and chives make this list, but you’ll get the most out of vegetables that will fill a growbag, containers, or troughs while giving you the greatest flavor per ounce. And the first herb that we find that meets those criteria is garlic.

Garlic needs deep, wide containers with lots of sun. Other than that, garlic is easy to grow. You can harvest a bulb and use it in a meal while the rest of the plants continue to grow. A little fresh garlic will add zing to any sauce, soup or meat dish.

Leafy Greens

Lettuce can be grown indoors as long as the containers receive enough sun. You could also try chard as an alternative. It grows like a weed and will regenerate leaves you chop off. It can even be used in place of lettuce in salads, but it could be added to stews and soups as well.

Another easy to grow leafy green is spinach. It can be raised in containers outside or in an indoor container. It only needs six inches of soil, though more is preferable. It will be ready to harvest in six to eight weeks.


Beetroot is ideal for container gardens because it grows in almost any soil and any climate – it is almost impossible to mess up unless you hide it in the closet. All it needs is a container at least ten inches deep and adequate sunlight.

Choose the right plants for your container garden, and you’ll enjoy as much produce as if you had a garden plot. They’ll also require much less water and energy to be grown, which is a right step towards more sustainability.

So, you’ll give this vegan thing a go…

I’ve yet to meet a vegan that regrets their decision to change the way they live.

You’ve seen the newspaper articles linking animal consumption to climate change, you have a family member who’s given up meat and a friend has been diagnosed lactose-intolerant. Things around you seem to be changing. Maybe you don’t really enjoy your roast dinner anymore, you even buy organic milk and free-range eggs, but is it enough?

Today, our guest blog is written by Heather Foster, owner and manager of The Green Kitchen vegan café in St Albans. Eating more plant-based foods is known to be a key factor for reducing carbon emissions… see if you can be persuaded to ditch the meat, fish and dairy in Veganuary!

Choosing a plant-based, vegan diet is something everyone can do, and it really does make a difference. It’s healthier as you are consuming less saturated fat and cholesterol, you increase the amount of fruit and vegetables and generally become more interested in what you are eating.

cutoutthemeatpic.pngThe production of animals for meat and dairy is a huge contributor to land loss, methane gases and pollution. The vast quantities of water needed; the antibiotics used, and intensive farming practises all have a massive impact on our planet (and that’s not even considering how the animals are treated). Many people love their dog but baulk at the thought of consuming horse meat; shouldn’t all animals be treated equally?

So, you’ll give this vegan thing a go – but what do you eat?

oatmilkpicFirstly, consider what you eat regularly and swop for plant-based products: butter or dairy margarine for sunflower margarine, cow’s milk for oat (there are many plant milks now that it’s easy to find one or more to suit your taste) Oat milk seems to be the best all-rounder and a good place to start.

There are oat or soya single cream substitutes, crème fraiche and even ‘squirty’ cream.

What about cheese?

Cheese seems to be a stumbling block for many people, our advice is to stop eating it for a few weeks and then try some vegan versions.

Some people argue that what makes cheese so addictive is the extremely high concentration of the milk protein casein that, when digested, results in casomorphins, which are opioids, belonging to the same chemical family as morphine and opium, inducing euphoric feelings and lowering pain.  (Ed: Why not do your own research on this issue, see endnote [i] )

sunflower seed mince If you use minced meat for sauces –  bolognese, lasagna, chilli, etc, try the frozen soya mince instead, it works just the same. There is also sunflower mince hitting the shelves, another great alternative to both meat and soya.

If you don’t enjoy cooking that much, you can opt for the convenience of a ready-made ‘sausage’ or ‘burger’ both easy to cook, tasty, increases your veg intake and reduces your meat consumption. As veganism grows the food manufacturers are adding more products, almost weekly it seems, and it’s becoming easy to enjoy tasty animal free meals.

If you like baking, then cake making doesn’t need eggs- find recipes easily on the internet. I make a really good sponge with soya yogurt and cornflower instead of eggs, along with the usual cake making ingredients. Cooking and baking doesn’t need to contain weird and difficult to source items.

For other egg options, tofu is a good substitute and can be ‘scrambled’, a good addition to a cooked breakfast, or snack on toast; adding turmeric, black pepper, nutritional yeast flakes[ii] and garlic salt results in a delicious alternative!

What’s in a label?

cochineal label.png

Becoming vegan will mean you start to check labels more intensely! It’s amazing and quite an eye-opener just what is in some foodstuffs. Gelatine, or isinglass (obtained from fish bladders) in wine…crushed beetles in food colourings (cochineal) and you may discover bread with milk in it and start to question why!

A vegan diet is far from limiting and even eating out is becoming easier. You may have heard of Veganuary’ – a campaign to encourage people to try living without animal products for a month- give it a go.

fashionSwitching from animal-based foods is just the start: a true vegan means living cruelty-free, where all life matters. Clothing, fabrics, footwear, cleaning and beauty/personal care products all are taken into account. It changes the way you look at the world and what happens in the bigger picture.

I used to think, as a vegetarian environmentalist, I was doing ok. I thought vegans were extreme, then I became vegan 13 years ago and I know for sure I wish I’d switched sooner.

I’ve yet to meet a vegan that regrets their decision to change the way they live.

Heather Foster is the owner of the green kitchen vegan cafe, St. Albans.

Heather’s Vegan Sponge Cake Recipe


  • 160mls plain vegetable oil
  • 250g sugar
  • 120ml dairy free milk of your choice
  • 180g plain Soya yoghurt
  • Flavouring of choice e.g. vanilla or almond extract, or lemon or orange zest.
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 30g cornflour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder

veganspongecakepicIn a large bowl put 146gr of plain vegetable oil (sunflower is good) with 250gr sugar, add 120ml dairy free milk of your choice, and 180gr plain Soya yogurt. Whisk well till combined, add flavouring of your choice- vanilla or almond extract, lemon or orange zest.

In a separate bowl weigh 200gr self-raising flour, 30gr cornflour, 1/4tsp salt and 1 tsp baking powder, sieve into the wet mixture and whisk gently till just combined. Pour into 2 sandwich tins ( 7cm diameter) and bake 180 o/c, till golden and risen, and a cocktail stick comes out clean. (about 25 mins but ovens do vary)

Cool and sandwich together with jam or icing (made from icing sugar and dairy-free spread.)

[i] (Ed: Many of the headlines about cheese being addictive come from the 2015 Michigan University study Which foods may be addictive? The roles of processing, fat content, and glycemic load’ that concluded that highly processed foods, including pizza (with cheese)  appear to be particularly associated with “food addiction.” The academics explain:

[ii] *nutritional yeast flakes are a useful and nutritional addition to savoury cooking and easily obtainable from Health food shops and some supermarkets.

Additional Reading


Going Plastic Free

There’s more to going plastic free than refusing straws in cocktails – and taking a look at your use of single use plastic can get to the heart of where things in your life are coming from and what you are consuming.

In January, groups can register their events for St Albans Sustainability Festival…so we thought we would help you get in the mood with this fabulous guest blog on Going Plastic Free – from Amanda Yorwerth, presenter of Radio Verulam’s Environment Matters, and campaigner at St Albans Friends of the Earth and Plastic Free St Albans….


stringbagBe prepared

Plastic lined coffee cups, plastic carrier bags and water bottles have been the items that have hit the headlines, and the key to avoiding disposable plastic items outside the house is going like a scout and being prepared.

We’ve all got plenty of cotton carrier bags sitting at home – it’s remembering to take them to the shops that’s the tricky bit. Perhaps a Post It on the front door or always having a bag tightly folded in your handbag might help.

RefillA Spork tucked into your handbag, or even jacket pocket, will take the place of any plastic cutlery or drinks stirrer and a Stojo collapsible coffee cup will be there whenever you fancy a cuppa on the go. Now that so many local companies are signed up to Refill  the scheme that allows you to fill up your own water bottle when you’re out, there’s no reason to buy plastic bottles of water. Oh, and in case you were thinking that bottled water is better for you, take a look at this

Free your vegetables

vegSo often, our fruit and veg arrives encased in plastic. But increasingly you can choose loose veg and take your own bag. Even market traders are increasingly happy to use your proffered cotton bag. Better still, grow your veg and make sure all that fruit on your trees finds a home. But do remember also that food waste is an even bigger problem than plastic pollution and that plastic packaging can help reduce food waste.


Clean up the bathroom

Wipes for your face, your bum or indeed anything else, are plastic based and cause havoc in the aquatic habitat, so stick to tissue paper or use one of the many reuseable bamboo wipes now available. Plastic free cotton buds are widely available and The Refill Pantry or Eat Wholefoods will refill your shampoo, conditioner and moisturiser bottles. Girls, every month those disposable sanitary items are causing plastic pollution (yes – they are made of plastic – take a look) so try enduring products like period pants from local company WUKA or a Moon Cup – widely available.

Plastic free store cupboard

refill shop.pngWith a wide range of pasta, rice, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and snacks, The Refill Pantry allows you to fill up your own containers and Patrick from Eat Wholefoods will do the same if you visit their warehouse on Hatfield Road.

Don’t forget the laundry

Woefully, many of our favourite items of clothing contain plastic fibres that escape into the environment when they are washed. Obviously selecting natural fibres when we buy clothes will help, but in the meantime wash synthetic items only when they really need it, wash on a shorter, cooler wash and catch escaping fibres in a Guppy Bag

Editor note: see more about microbeads at  #Whatsinmywash campaign