7 Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
Eating, like many things is life, is best accomplished nearest to the source. As our human bodies cannot use sunshine, water, and dirt alone for energy, the next (and much more delicious) step up the food chain is plants: vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains.
Diversity is key. With so many helpful nutrients found in the various plants we eat, it’s best to get regular doses of the many kinds that serve different parts of your body. From fiber, vitamins, and minerals, to healthy fats, amino acids, and phytochemicals, plants provide everything your body needs to live a long and robust life.
Here is my list of the top 7 benefits you will enjoy on a plant-based diet:
1. A diverse, healthier microbiome
Eating an array of different fruits and vegetables gives your digestive system the fiber, resistant starch, and diverse bacterial strains it needs to grow the populations of healthy microbes in your gut that can more readily outcompete pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and fungi that would otherwise cause problems. Healthy intestinal bacteria help keep inflammation low, which sends healthy signals throughout your body1 — studies have even found that high fiber diets improve cognitive function2 and that the microbiome may play a role in autism.3
2. Reduced inflammation
Flavonoids, phenolics, anthocyanins, carotenoids, isothiocyanates — oh my! Many of these protective plant compounds are what give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors, and they provide a range of benefits in our diet. For instance, isothiocyanates such as sulforaphane, found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbages, reduce inflammation and inhibit carcinogens from causing cancer.4,5 The anthocyanins in berries help protect your vision, flavonoids in apples, onions, and green tea reduce inflammation, and carotenoids found in carrots, cantaloupe, and tomatoes do all three.6
3. Lower cancer risk
Eating animal products increases levels of the growth hormone IGF-1 in the body and blood, which promotes the growth and spread of cancerous cells. Higher levels of short-chain fatty acids in the gut, particularly butyrate, which is one of the primary end-products of bacterial fermentation of dietary fiber in the colon, helps prevent and inhibit carcinogenesis, reducing your colon cancer risk,8,9 the #3 leading cause of cancer death. The high levels of vitamins, antioxidants, and other phytochemicals found in plants can prevent free radicals from causing cellular damage that might otherwise lead to cancer.10 Vegan diets even appear to confer more protection from cancer than lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets.11
4. Better blood lipid levels
Removing animal products, which are heavy in saturated fats, from your diet helps maintain low levels of total cholesterol and, especially, the “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which in turn reduces your risk for heart disease — the leading cause of death in the U.S. Replacing them with more mono- and polyunsaturated fats like those found in olive oil, flax seeds, and walnuts contributes to reduced inflammation and higher levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol.12
5. More energy
One of the most interesting phytochemicals plants provide in our diet is chlorophyll, the pigment molecule that allows green plants to convert sunlight into biological ATP energy. Researchers have shown that mitochondria in animals can also capture light and synthesize ATP energy when mixed with a chlorophyll metabolite.13 In the process, chlorophyll enables human cells to generate the important antioxidant coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), which protects against oxidative stress and helps the body absorb other nutrients.14,15
6. Extra money in your pocket
Vegetables, legumes, fruits, and nuts can provide your nutritional needs for less cost than meat-based diets, which makes sense when you consider that livestock producers generally must purchase plant-based feed from farmers to grow their cattle, pigs, chicken, or fish. By putting plant farming efforts directly to use feeding people and cutting out the middlemen, there’s a lot less cost to bringing nutritious food to your plate.
7. Clearer conscience
By eating lower on the food-chain and consuming only (or mostly) plants, you are contributing to reduced physical and mental suffering in the world. Fewer animals will perish or live painfully caged lives, less climate-changing greenhouse gases will be emitted by livestock and their still largely fossil-fueled transportation methods, less land will be taken from natural habitats for conversion to animal-based food production, and less water will be used during the intense processes required to bring animal products to market.16
What about mushrooms? Well, they aren’t actually plants, but they certainly aren’t animals, either. Nutritionally, fungi can be a great addition to healthy plant-based eating without any downsides. So, enjoy their earthy flavor and abundance of nutrients, too!
If you want to change up your diet or discuss how plant-based eating can improve your personal health, give us a call at Vitality to schedule a consultation, or sign up for a cooking class or supermarket tour. You will be happy to find that plants are one of Earth’s great gifts to human well-being.