Eat your vegetables. This often-heard command at a dinner table with children is expressed for one main reason—health.
Today we realize vegetables, and more broadly plants, play a bigger part in our well-being than we realized in past history. But it’s not only about us—it’s also for the health of our planet and the well-being of all life. That’s why it’s important to understand the benefits of a plant-based diet and why you should apply it to your eating habits.
Western diets, or diets that normally consist of low amounts of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and high amounts of meat and processed foods, have high rates of chronic diseases such as cancer. In addition, Mexico, the United States, and many other countries are going through an obesity epidemic. In its simplest terms, obesity is defined as an individual’s amount of excess fat that has an adverse effect on their health.
The reality is there are numerous unethical, for-profit and power-hungry food marketing that consumers face daily. This can lead you to believe your food choices are healthy—when in fact they’re not.
One of the most misleading or misunderstood concepts is that we need meat for protein or to survive. This is statement is not factual. And many governments inaccurately promote meat as part of the required daily food intake. But you should realize they have the agricultural sector to protect, more specifically the meat industry and their partners.
We live in an environment that fails to support our health. It’s time we take control over our food and incorporate the benefits of a plant-based diet for the long-term well-being of all citizens.
What is a Plant-Based Diet?
At its core, a plant-based diet consists of mainly or entirely consuming healthy foods derived from plants. These include grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, legumes and seeds.
For a better understanding of a plant-based diet, let’s take a look at the different types of core diets that people follow:
Standard Diet – This is the most typical diet consisting of nearly all available food options: meat (including seafood), dairy, eggs, processed and refined foods, plant-based foods, etc. The standard diet is influenced by culture, religion, environment, and social norms; and it’s heavily influenced by marketing.
Vegetarian – Consists of plant-based foods, dairy and eggs.
Flexitarian – A diet that consists mostly of plant-based foods, but also has smaller portions of meat, dairy and eggs compared to the standard diet. As per the name, it’s flexible and some people may define it differently.
Vegan – This diet consists entirely of animal-free ingredients including plant-based foods. In addition, no animals were hurt in food preparation. For example, the foods may be vegan, but if the packaging is not vegan or the food manufacturer isn’t vegan, then many people feel the food isn’t vegan either.
There are numerous more diets that people have adopted including pescatarian, which mainly consists of fish as a source of protein; ovo-vegetarian, which includes consumption of eggs but not dairy; and the Mediterranean diet, which was named after countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and similar to the flexitarian diet, consists mainly of plant-based foods with moderate amounts of dairy and eggs, and limited amount of red meat.
There are several more diets that can’t be covered in the post. Different types of diets and diet names pop up all the time depending on the food intake and health goals. I mean I can eat a diet that consist mostly of bananas in terms of food volume and call it the banana diet.
Returning to plant-based, this diet consists of healthy plant-based foods. As an example, it should include natural sugars over refined sugars (e.g., corn syrup), whole grain rice over white rice, fruits over gummy bears, omega-3 fatty acids over saturated or trans fats, etc. Remember that not all fats are bad.
9 Plant-Based Diet Benefits
There are several benefits that a plant-based diet provides. Here we’ll cover some of the main ones and provide insight. Many of the benefits are connected—especially the health benefits.
1. Reduce Cholesterol and Blood Pressure
Our body needs cholesterol because it’s used to make the structure of cell membranes and produce hormones. As a result, the human body naturally produces cholesterol through our liver so we don’t need it through food sources.
On the other hand, high or excess levels of cholesterol causes fatty deposits in our blood vessels and is linked to high blood pressure (hypertension), cardiovascular disease and heart disease. Excess cholesterol can build up, called plaque, and harden your arteries also known as atherosclerosis.
Cholesterol doesn’t dissolve in blood. To move along the bloodstream, it requires two types of carriers: LDL (low-density lipoproteins) cholesterol and HDL (high-density lipoproteins) cholesterol.
LDL is required in limited quantities. It’s known as the bad cholesterol because excess levels of LDL cholesterol contribute to clogged arteries.
HDL is known as the good cholesterol because it helps clear LDL cholesterol from the arteries and transport it back to the liver.
One of the best ways of lowering cholesterol and blood pressure is to eat a plant-based diet. Meat-based diets have high amounts of saturated fat which leads to high cholesterol.
According to a University of Toronto study, plant-based diets rich in special cholesterol-lowering foods reduced the amount of LDL by 30% in 4 weeks.
These foods include:
- almonds, pistachios, peanuts
- lentils, chickpeas, beans, peas
- oats, barley, physillium
- tempeh, tofu, soy milk
You can also look at the portfolio diet to find more foods that can help with lowering LDL.
Other ways to lower your cholesterol levels is to not smoke, drink alcohol in moderation, reduce stress, eat a low-salt diet, exercise, and reduce weight.
According to the World Health Organization, ischaemic heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death globally. Maintaining a healthy plant-based diet will also reduce your chances of a stroke, heart attack, and other health-related issues compared to the standard diet.
2. Prevent Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a global pandemic.
This is a dangerous health concern because it can lead to damaged nerves and blood vessels, leading to heart disease, blindness, stroke, kidney disease, and gum infection. Advanced type 2 diabetes can also lead to amputation due limbs not receiving adequate circulation.
Differences between Type 1 and 2 diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes is caused by when your body attacks the cells in your pancreas which means it can’t produce insulin.
Type 2 diabetes — accounts for 90-95% people that have diabetes — is the body’s inability to make enough insulin or effectively use insulin.
A healthy plant-based diet reduces the risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 30%.
3. Lose Weight
People that follow a plant-based diet tend to have a lower body index (BMI) or excess amount of fat. More importantly, obese individuals that change to a plant-based diet can lose more fat than their carnivore counterparts, and are able to maintain the fat loss in the long run.
How to lose weight:
- avoid or reduce meat, dairy and eggs
- eat whole foods that aren’t processed
- exclude refined sugars
focus on vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, seeds, and nuts
In addition to the above tips to losing weight on a plant-based diet, you should also focus on eating low-calorie foods. For example, most fruits and vegetables will have a lower calorie count per volume than potatoes, rice, beans, meat, dairy, eggs, and oil. This will help you become and feel full on a plant-based diet without excess calories.
And without forgetting the elephant in the room, you should also exercise on a regular basis to speed up your metabolism and lose fat.
4. Anti-Inflammatory Benefits
Plant-based diets are beneficial in lowering chronic inflammation levels in our body.
Low-fat, plant-based diets also help with the defense of arthritis. According to a 2015 study, individuals eating a whole-food, plant-based diet significantly decreased their osteoarthritis pain in only 2 weeks.
5. Decrease Risk of Cancer
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease.
A plant-based diet is rich in nutrients: including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals (plant chemicals that may protect cells from damage) and fiber; and they are known to reduce the risk of several types of cancers. In fact, eating 170 grams of whole grain foods each day may decrease your colorectal cancer risk by 21%.
If there is one type of meat you should reduce, it’s red meat. It’s believed the chemical compounds in red meat are cancer causing when cooked.
Aging should be a graceful process. The benefits of having a healthy body will help you look and feel young.
Furthermore, flavonoids and carotenoids—two important plant-based antioxidants—which are found in fruits and vegetables help remove free radicals from your skin and body that cause premature aging.
Here are some plant-based foods that help with anti-aging:
- blood oranges
- brazil nuts
- dark chocolate
- pomegranate seeds
7. Lower the Cost of Food
Money is a leading factor in food purchasing decisions. And who doesn’t like saving on their grocery bills?
A misconception many people have is that a plant-based or vegan diet costs more than the standard western diet.
A 2019 study conducted by Dalhousie and the University of Guelph found that a Canadian family of 4 would save 6.8% off their annual grocery bill if they adopted Canada’s new food guide which recommends consuming less animal products and more plant-based foods. The cost savings are more significant in a plant-based diet if animal products are entirely removed.
And remember the notation that we need meat for protein. Well here’s a statement from Canada’s Food Guide, “Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods. Choose protein foods that come from plants more often.”
Below is the cost of protein for some typical foods.
As you can see, there are significant cost savings when it comes to protein consumption and a plant-based diet. Individuals on a strength-training or muscle-gaining diet will reap the financial benefits of a plant-based diet since they will be required to consume more protein. And you’ll still be able to get your complete proteins from legumes, grains, seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
The prices are only estimates and were calculated using information from Walmart US and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
8. Reduce Environmental Impact
Swimming in a clean lake or being able to hike through a forest with populated wildlife is taken for granted.
Imagine only being able to see a Polar Bear in a zoo due to their loss in habitat. It’s not a great feeling.
Deforestation and global warming (yes, it’s a real thing) are destroying Earth’s natural beauty.
Animal agriculture requires large amounts of land for grazing, particularly beef and dairy cattle. Consequently, this results in deforestation. It’s “estimated that shifting away from animal-based foods could add up to 49% to the global food supply without expanding croplands.”
Furthermore, the meat industry is the second largest contributor to man-made greenhouse gases behind fossil fuels and is a preventable cause to global warming.
Water waste also plays an important factor in the meat industry. Moving away from a meat-based diet or at least reducing the consumption will provide more fresh water globally.
Another way to look at the water footprint is in terms of protein:
- 100 g of beef protein requires 5400 litres of fresh water.
- 100 g of soy protein requires 600 litres of fresh water.
Protecting this planet now will help future generations—of all living beings—enjoy what many of us take for granted today.
9. Cruelty-Free Towards Animals
Eating a plant-based diet helps reduce cruelty towards animals.
Moreover, eating vegan or a diet consisting of 100% plant-based foods without any animal derivatives or involvement is the most ethical way to ensure animals don’t suffer due to human food consumption. Yes, animals do suffer.
As mentioned earlier, eating a plant-based diet is better for the environment by reducing deforestation, which results in more natural habitat for wildlife.
Unfortunately, deforestation can still occur if plant-based ingredients are not harvested sustainably. A known culprit of unsustainable agriculture is the palm oil industry. Palm oil is often a main ingredient in instant noodles.
How to Switch to a Plant-Based Diet
Some individuals—when their mind is set—are gung ho and can switch to a plant-based or vegan diet the very next day.
However, most individuals aren’t wired like this, especially considering some of the cravings our body is used to.
The best and successful way to change to a plant-based diet is to do it moderately.
For example, if you eat meat in each meal every day, then you should start off by eating 1 100% plant-based meal once a week. After a few weeks, you should try to switch to eating 100% plant-based the entire day, once a week. And you’ll keep building momentum and progress.
Another way to switch to a plant-based diet is to only eat meat, dairy or eggs at special gatherings such as family get-togethers, weddings, or even après ski.
If you suffer from a medical condition and decide to change your diet, it’s always best to seek professional medical advice.
Many of the health benefits that a plant-based diet provides are connected due to its cholesterol lowering and anti-inflammatory properties. There is no question that a plant-based diet will improve your health and keep you healthy.
Maybe you’re already eating a vegan diet. In the event you’re not, I hope some of the mentioned benefits will change your mind to becoming more focused on eating a plant-based diet. Besides—animals, the environment, your body and your wallet will thank you.