Whole Food Plant Based Diet
Plant-based eating is nothing new. Cultures around the world have embraced plant-based diets for centuries. However, in the United States at least, plant-based diets are now enjoying a certain level of trendiness. Veggie-based chicken nuggets and burgers are advertised on television, restaurants in major cities focus entirely on plant-based dining, and it’s not at all considered radical or unusual to be the vegetarian or vegan in your friend group.
The growing popularity of plant-based lifestyles can be partially attributed to its currently fashionable status, but also the growing recognition of the negative ways meat consumption impacts our planet. According to Dr. Joanne Kong at the University of Richmond, animal agriculture accounts for 51% of greenhouse gas emissions and is also the top cause of species and habitat loss due to deforestation. It’s also the main cause of water pollution. Going vegetarian cuts one’s carbon footprint, Dr. Kong says, in half.
However, one of the most immediate benefits of a plant-based lifestyle is not the social media clout you get from taste-testing the latest veggie chicken nuggets or the decrease in your carbon footprint. Instead, it’s the very real and myriad health benefits you reap. To give you an idea of the various health benefits you can expect when switching to a plant-based diet, here are just a few facts from some of the most respected health and wellness organizations and publications around the country.
While weight loss shouldn’t necessarily be your main health goal, unless a greater obesity issue is of concern, studies have shown that plant-based diets are “highly effective” for weight loss. In one Nutrition Reviews study, the authors reported that “weight loss in vegetarians is not dependent on exercise and occurs at a rate of approximately 1 pound per week” and that a vegan diet “caused more calories to be burned after meals, in contrast to non-vegan diets, which may cause fewer calories to be burned because food is being stored as fat.” As a result, a plant-based diet helps to reduce obesity and the various health concerns that accompany it.
The American Heart Association is quick to point out the many benefits of plant-based eating. Eating less meat, the organization says, can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes. This benefit is often linked to the high amounts of cholesterol, saturated fat and sodium found in many meats and meat byproducts.
Reduced cancer risk
As the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center reports, eating more plants can help to support your immune system, add more fiber to your diet and reduce inflammation, which, in part, helps you to avoid a wide range of cancers. Switching to a plant-based diet — or just eating more plants in general — and reaping the associated benefits can help you to avoid colorectal, post-menopausal breast, uterine, esophageal, kidney and pancreatic cancers, just to name a few.
Most, if not all, of our health choices simply come down to a desire for greater longevity and, luckily for those following a plant-based diet, studies have shown that plant-based diets are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality when compared to non-plant-based diets. These longevity and mortality benefits have been specifically linked to a decrease in red meat consumption.
A word of caution
But while these only scratches the surface of the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle, it’s worth noting that switching to a plant-based diet does come with a caveat. You won’t reap all these benefits if you simply stop eating meat and call your diet “plant-based.” If you’re not eating meat, but are just eating highly processed foods, sugars, and fats, you very likely won’t see the benefits mentioned above.
When switching to a plant-based diet, it’s important to ensure your meals are healthy. Ensure that you’re eating a wide range of plants, so that you meet your body’s protein, vitamin, and mineral needs. The Cleveland Clinic offers some advice on how to do this, including getting your protein through beans and lentils, quinoa, soy, nuts and seeds, as well as eating plenty of Vitamin D-containing and calcium-rich foods, such as mushrooms and dark leafy greens. The clinic also recommends eating whole grains and fortified cereals, to get your required zinc, iron and Vitamin B12.
If you’re considering switching to a plant-based diet to reap the benefits above, as well as the many others, improved mental health and reduction of metabolic syndrome are more benefits not mentioned. According to Harvard Health Publishing, just start slow. It’s not always easy to make such a drastic lifestyle change, but it can be well worth it.