Plant-based diets are increasing in popularity. And it’s for a good reason. Mounting evidence from research shows that eating a plant-based diet or meal improves heart health, among other things.
Before we dive into some of the benefits, let’s take a closer look at what plant-based diet
What is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet is a meal that contains mostly or only foods derived from plants. Therefore, plant-based diets include:
- Vegan: Diets that do not include any animal products
- Plant-forward: diets based on plants but include meat and fish from time-to-time
- Vegetarian: diets that exclude meat but include eggs and dairy
- Pescatarian: a plant-based diet that excludes meats but includes seafood
All these diets leverage plant-based meal benefits.
What happens to your body when you start eating plant-based diets?
Plant-based foods have a significant impact on your body. The most common effect is weight loss. The main hindrance to weight loss is the excess calories from the protein-packed animal products.
A vegan diet will help reduce calories and cut back on unnecessary snacking. Basically, a vegan diet results in lower appetite, less snacking, and little intake of empty calories.
What are the benefits of plant-based food?
The following are 11 plant-based meal benefits:
1. Contains high-fiber and minerals
We all know that plant-based meals are healthier than animal-based diets. Yet, very few people manage to eat the appropriate amount of vegetables and fruits.
What makes fruits and vegetables particularly healthy is the high-fiber content. Fiber has health benefits that include better digestion, weight loss, lower blood sugar, and improved heart health. Besides, plants pack other essential nutrients such as minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
2. Supports weight loss
According to research, vegetarians have lower rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. This review of 12 studies found out that plant-based diets can contribute to a weight loss of about 4.5 pounds (2kg) over about 4 months.
More importantly, a whole-foods plant-based (WFPB) diet helps with long term weight management. In this study involving 65 individuals, those on a WFPB diet maintained a weight loss of about 9.25 pounds over a one-year follow-up period.
3. Lowers risk of hypertension
Hypertension, or blood pressure, is linked to kidney problems, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Individuals diagnosed with hypertension have to manage blood pressure using medication. However, studies suggest that plant-based diets can help lower blood pressure.
This 2014 analysis of 39 studies revealed that vegetarians have lower blood pressure compared to those who eat meat-based diets.
Why? Fruits and vegetables have high potassium content. Unlike sodium, potassium lowers your blood pressure. Also, plants have low levels of fat and sodium. And, plants do not have cholesterol.
Added fats, dairy, and meat products increase the blood’s thickness (viscosity) which makes pumping blood more difficult.
4. Lowers risk of heart diseases
Fruits and veggies are heart-healthy. A study on the Journal of the American Heart Association found out that people who practice the plant-forward diet have a lower risk of heart disease.
However, not all plant-based foods are healthy. According to this study, the quality of plant foods in your diet matters. A diet with legumes, whole-grains, vegetables, fruits, and nut significantly lowers the risk of heart disease.
But, unhealthy plant-food choices such as refined grains and sugary fruit juices increase the risk of developing heart disease. For heart health, the best choice is a whole-food plant-based diet.
5. Lowers risk of diabetes
Plant-based diets help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. A 2009 research on more than 60,000 people found out that 7.9% of people on a regular diet had type 2 diabetes compared to only 2.9% of people on a vegan diet.
Even vegetarians who include dairy and poultry in their diets have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to people who eat meat.
Another group of scientists set out to investigate if vegan diets can treat diabetes. The results of their review found out that a plant-based diet can help diabetics reduce their dependence on medication.
According to that review and numerous other studies, veganism helps with type 2 diabetes by improving insulin resistance, decreasing body weight, decreases saturated fat, and allows better interaction between food and microbiomes.
6. Lowers risk of cancer
Combining a plant-based diet with other healthy practices can help decrease the risk of cancer.
According to this study that examined 30,000 women past menopause, a plant-forward diet, healthy weight, and little consumption of alcohol decreased breast cancer by about 62 percent.
Another study involving 77,000 people found out that plant-based diets reduce colorectal cancer by about 22 percent. The study revealed that vegetarians who eat fish, pescatarians, have the lowest risk of colorectal cancer.
And, another study found out that vegetarians, particularly those that take poultry and dairy, have a lower risk of gastrointestinal cancer.
7. Improves digestion
Plant-based foods such as whole grains and vegetables are the best sources of fiber. Fiber improves digestion in two main ways:
- Insoluble fiber leaves the stomach undigested and goes to the colon where it feeds healthy gut bacteria and improves gut health.
- It keeps things moving in the digestive tract
Certain types of soluble fiber help prevent constipation, promote weight loss, and lower blood sugar levels. The recommended fiber intake for men is 38 grams and for women 25 grams. You can easily reach those limits by taking plant-based foods.
8. Promotes better vision
Vitamin A, which is abundant in carotenoid-rich plants such as carrots, improves vision.
Plants such as corn, spinach, kale, grapes, and squash have lutein and zeaxanthin. These are pigments that help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts.
9. Supports skin health
Fruits and vegetables improve your skin by increasing hydration. Also, plants and vegetable contain phytochemicals which protect your skin from environmental stress. These chemicals also prevent skin cancer.
Vitamin C, found in fruits such as oranges and vegetables such as sweet potatoes, stimulates collagen thereby preventing wrinkles. The lycopene found in tomatoes prevents sun damage on your skin.
10. Improves cognitive function
Veggies and fruits can help prevent the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s. According to this study, plants have antioxidants that slow the progression of this neurodegenerative disorder.
Also, fruits and vegetables prevent dementia. This review of nine studies showed that more veggies and fruits in the diet decrease the risk of cognitive impairment by 20 percent. A poor diet hurts you.
11. Support the environment
Plant-based meals are not only good for your health but also for the environment. Animal farming and meat production have more greenhouse gas emissions than the transportation industry. Additionally, animal farming contributes to about 90 percent of deforestation in the Amazon.
A review of scientific studies found out that plant-based food results in a 70 percent decrease in land use and greenhouse gas emissions. The same study suggested that by preferring a plant-based diet, the world could record a 50 percent decrease in water usage.
In other words, people who eat a plant-based diet have a better environmental footprint.
How to incorporate plant-based meals into your diet?
Going plant-based will be easy. The following are some tips to help ease the transition:
- Eat fruits for dessert
- Include more vegetables, especially the dark-green veggies such as kale
- Cook a completely vegetarian meal at least once a week
- Use healthy fats, such as olive oil
- Take whole grain cereals for breakfast. Oatmeal is a perfect choice.
- Create a meal based on a salad