EAT MORE PLANTS
THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF EATING PLANTS
There is compelling evidence that those who eat more plant foods live longer and healthier lives, and reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases thanks to the health-promoting, disease-fighting, nutrients found exclusively in whole foods.
Digest this for a moment: 60% of all deaths are due to chronic disease – heart disease, stroke, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes – and an estimated 80% of these chronic diseases are actually preventable.
What is the cause of these chronic diseases? Lifestyle choices, including smoking status, body weight, exercise, and poor dietary choices.
WHAT ABOUT GENETICS?
Inherited doesn’t mean inevitable. Our genes are a predisposition, but are not usually our fate; the way your DNA is expressed is a result of both nature (your hardware) and nurture (your software). And you can reprogram your software.
Genes can be up-regulated (activated) and down-regulated (deactivated) as a result of your interactions with your environment that are affected by your lifestyle behaviours.
Diet, exercise, stress, exposure to toxins, and trauma can all alter your environment and influence the expression of your genes, and ultimately, your health outcomes.
In a nutshell; changing your lifestyle can actually alter the way your genes are expressed, even in individuals with a high genetic risk for chronic diseases.
“Your genetics load the gun, but your lifestyle pulls the trigger”.
WHOLE PLANT FOODS vs PROCESSED FOODS
You could argue that almost all food has been processed in some way, shape or form. Where do you draw the line? I think Dr Michael Greger of nutritionfacts.org summarises unprocessed perfectly, as:
“nothing bad added, nothing good taken away“.
Whole foods are:
- Close to their original state
- Things your great-grandparents would have recognized as food
- Don’t have a long list of ingredients
- Often sold without packaging
Highly processed foods:
- Bear little resemblance to their original state
- Are things your great-grandparents probably wouldn’t recognize
- Have (usually long) ingredient lists
- Come in packaging
WHY ARE ULTRA-PROCESSED FOODS SO BAD?
- Processing removes or breaks down fibre: When fibre is broken down or removed, its important health benefits are lost.
- Processing concentrates calories: As fibre has been removed or broken down, then water has been removed, meaning processed foods can pack more calories into less volume. So, in order to feel satisfied, you’re likely to consume more calories than your body really needs.
- Processing adds unhealthy ingredients: Often, as foods is processed, oils, sugars, salt, and chemicals are added, increasing its calorie count and other health risks, without any nutritional benefit.
When it’s not possible to eat foods in their completely unprocessed form, processing should be minimal. For instance, choose:
- Natural peanut butter with only one ingredient (peanuts!) instead of processed peanut butter with added salt, sugar and oil
- Whole wheat pasta made from whole grains instead of white pasta made from refined flour
- Steel-cut oats instead of quick oats or instant oat cereals
- A baked potato instead of deep-fried chips
- Brown rice instead of white rice
- Canned legumes in water only (no added salt or sugar etc.)
HOW I APPLY A PLANT-BASED PHILOSOPHY
SPOILER ALERT: You don’t have to eat only plants!
Plant-based diets come in various forms, from WFPB NSOS (whole food, plant based with no salt, oil or sugar) and strict vegan through to Mediterranean and flexitarian.
While they have their differences, they all prioritise eating whole (unprocessed) plant foods while minimising animal products and ultra-processed foods.
Embracing a plant-based diet isn’t about deprivation or limitation; it’s about getting as much nutritional bang for your buck as possible. Emphasis is placed as much on what you are eating as what you’re not.
Personally, I have adopted a 90-95% plant-predominate diet.
While there may be a marginal difference between the health benefits of a 100% plant-based diet and 90%, the reality is that most of us have deal-breakers; “I could never give up eggs/steak/ doughnuts” etc.. Well, you don’t need to give them up entirely!
If you can still eat your dealbreakers, then you won’t feel deprived, but at the same time, you’ll be massively increasing your intake of plant-based nutrients, and for most people who are looking to improve their health, the benefits of doing this far outweigh the alternatives (one of which is to make no change at all).
This magic number – 90% – also just happens to be the way the longest-living people on the planet eat. The inhabitants of the ‘Blue Zones‘ consistently live (in good health) to over 100 years old, and their plant-forward diets are one of nine contributing factors to their impressive longevity.
But if 90% seems like too much, aim for 80% or 70% – don’t let an all-or-nothing mindset stop you! Every step towards eating more plants and fewer processed foods and animal products can improve your health and reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases.
- Preventing chronic diseases: a vital investment – The World Health Organisation (WHO)
- Preventing chronic diseases: a vital investment, misunderstanding #4 – The World Health Organisation (WHO)
- Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets – The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)
- Prevention of Chronic Disease by Means of Diet and Lifestyle Changes – The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)
- Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases – The World Health Organisation (WHO)