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Are you considering transitioning to a plant-based diet and wondering about the health benefits?
First off, how do we define a plant-based diet?
Simply put, a plant-based diet prioritises eating whole (unprocessed) plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, while minimising or excluding animal products and ultra-processed foods.
Why is this relevant?
It is reported that unhealthy diets contribute to more death and disability than tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse combined. Wow! To put this into context, the most comprehensive analysis of dietary risk factors and their effects on health has determined that globally, 1 in 5 deaths are caused by an unhealthy diet.
An unhealthy diet is classified as one that’s based predominately on processed foods with added fat, salt, and sugar, and is high in animal products that are rich in saturated fats, while being low in whole plant foods.
Across the world, dietary guidelines are catching up with the research, and policymakers are now recommending we eat a healthy diet that consists mainly of plant-based foods, with modest amounts of protein from animal sources. Meanwhile, at population level, the number of people choosing to completely eliminate animal products from their diets is growing rapidly.
In a nutshell, a healthy lifestyle – which includes a diet that is high in whole plant foods and low in red meat and processed foods – is associated with a lower risk of developing multiple chronic diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, and also extends disease-free life expectancy.
But here’s how this translates into the real-life health benefits of a plant-based diet
1. Plants are packed with nutrients
Many health-promoting, disease-fighting nutrients in the form of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, are found exclusively in whole plant-based foods.
These antioxidant nutrients help protect the body from oxidative stress caused by free radicals, which can lead to cell mutations and DNA damage.
2. Plant-based diets can prevent and reverse chronic disease
People who eat more plants live longer and reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases like cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease – some of which can be controlled and even reversed with a plant-based diet.
3. If you need to lose weight, it will fall off (and stay off!)
No more calorie counting 🙌🏼
Moving to a plant-based diet will allow you to eat more but consume less. That’s right, plant foods are low in calorie density so you can eat a larger volume of food in exchange for fewer calories. Plant-based foods are also highly satiating and fibre-rich, so you will feel fuller for longer.
4. You’ll get enough fibre (FINALLY!)
Most people don’t even come close to eating the recommended daily 30g of fibre – the plant-based carbohydrates that keep our digestive systems healthy (in various ways, from reducing bowel cancer risk to preventing constipation) and help remove excess cholesterol from the body.
By upping your intake of whole, plant-based foods, you’ll naturally be increasing your consumption of fibre which is not found in animal products.
5. You’ll have better digestion
Thanks to our friend fibre, which helps keep the digestive system healthy by preventing constipation, feeding your good gut bacteria, and reducing your risk of developing bowel cancer, you’ll have a happier tummy eating a plant-based diet.
If you’re not used to eating a lot of fibre, check out these tips to ensure you have a smooth transition.
6. You’ll control your cholesterol
The trans fats and saturated fats found in animal products and processed junk food stimulate cholesterol synthesis, so if you’re concerned about your cholesterol levels, a plant-based diet can help you keep that in check.
Superhero fibre comes to the rescue again, to control the absorption and production of cholesterol in the body.
7. You’ll have more energy
High-fibre, whole food, plant-based diets can help keep your blood sugar stable and avoid the ‘spike and crash’ we get from eating processed foods and sugar-laden snacks, that are standard fare in a typical western diet.
8. Your skin will love you for it
The added hydration from water-dense fruits and vegetables, as well as their ability to naturally lower inflammation, is a winning combination as far as your skin is concerned, helping to boost skin elasticity and reduce acne.
The evidence is compelling
The health benefits of a plant-based diet can no longer be ignored. Whether you want to go the whole nine yards and adopt a vegan lifestyle, or maybe flexitarianism is more your style, every step towards eating more plant foods is a step closer to better health.
One last thing…
Before embarking on a change of diet, please consult your doctor to ensure the diet is right for you and your personal circumstances. This is especially important if you are taking any medications or are suffering from a chronic illness.⠀
- Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 – The Lancet
- Healthy lifestyle and life expectancy free of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: a prospective cohort study – The BMJ
- Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets – The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)
- Role of dietary fiber in colon cancer: an overview – PMID: 10089109
- Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fiber: a meta-analysis – PMID: 9925120
- Beneficial Effects of High Dietary Fiber Intake in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus – New England Journal of Medicine