Here’s why ...
If you’re eating the typical American diet and you think of a plant based diet, what comes to mind? You probably think of someone not eating meat, just salads — all the time.
With the plant based diet growing in popularity, it’s no wonder that more and more people are interested in learning about it and, as it turns out, those crazy herbivores may be onto something. By eating foods that are nutrient-rich like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, nuts and seeds, you experience a surprising number of health benefits.
First, let’s discuss the main components of a plant-based diet. No surprise — it closely resembles a vegetarian diet. A plant based diet includes lots of vegetables (including potatoes and corn), fruits, beans, legumes, nuts and healthy fats (coconuts and olives). Different people define a “plant based” diet in different ways. Some people consider it to be strictly only foods from plants while others consider a “plant based” diet to be one that’s foundation is from plants, with some additional items like fish or cheeses. Some of the most popular plant based diets include the vegan diet, vegetarian diet, Mediterranean diet, and the raw diet.
Most people’s first concern with a plant-based diet is where protein will come from, but it’s much less of an issue than you would think. It’s actually easy to eat the recommended amount of protein on a plant-based diet. Nearly all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts and seeds contain protein. A few great examples of high-protein, plant based foods are quinoa, oats, barley, beans, nuts and nut butters, seeds and legumes.
Alright, let’s talk about what everyone is thinking right now: “That is all great information, but the question still stands; why would anyone give up eating a juicy burger or steak?!”
If you have been raised on a typical American diet, it’s tough to leave your comfort zone, but there are so many benefits of switching to a plant based diet.
First of all, plant-based diets are typically much higher in fiber, which has great gut and digestive benefits. Added fiber results in regular bowel movements, lower cholesterol, stabilization of blood sugars, and weight loss.
Another bonus of a plant based diet is the higher amount of antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, folate and vitamins A, C and E found in a plant based diet. These benefit the heart, skin, eyes and immune system.
A plant-based diet also dramatically lowers your risk of heart disease.
“Compared to meat eaters, plant based eaters have a staggering 75% lower risk of developing high blood pressure,” says Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN — known as the Plant-Powered Dietitian. In addition, plant-based eaters also have a 45% lower risk of dying from heart disease.
How about the scariest word of all, cancer?
According to a 2019 report from World Health Organization, the group has classified “processed meats such as bacon and sausage as directly involved in causing cancer in humans. Studies show that eating processed meat can increase your cancer risk by 18%.”
The organization also classifies processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen, which is the same group as cigarettes, asbestos and plutonium. Red meat is classified as a Group 2 carcinogen — the same group as insecticides.
Does Type 2 diabetes run in your family?
If it does, you may be able to change your future by eating plant-based foods. People who eat plant based diets have a 78% lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Studies even report that a plant based diet lowers blood sugar levels in diabetics more than the diets recommended by the American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association and National Cholesterol Education Program.
“There are some amazing benefits that come with a plant-based diet. However, as with any lifestyle changes, there are things to be aware of as well. The first of which is a potential lack of Vitamin B12,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD CDN, and founder of Toby Amidor Nutrition.
You can typically only get vitamin B12 in substantial amounts by consuming meat, fish, eggs and dairy. Therefore, most experts recommend that anyone on a plant based diet should consume a Vitamin B12 supplement daily. B12 is a water soluble vitamin, so there is virtually no risk of toxicity (meaning there is no downfall to taking in additional Vitamin B12 because your body will just flush out what it doesn’t need).
Lastly, any plant-based eater should be aware of the potential for over-consumption of carbohydrates. This can cause candida and yeast overgrowth as well as weight gain. To combat this, make a meal plan and snack plan. It takes a little work but will be well worth the payoff.
As the plant-based diet trend continues to grow, you will no doubt see more and more plant based options in your local grocery stores and restaurants. And with all of the health benefits of a plant based diet, we can only hope this trend stays around for good.
A word of warning, though: There are still plenty of plant based junk foods out there, so just because something is vegetarian or vegan doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the healthiest choice. French fries and beer are two great examples.
In order to get the most out of a plant-based diet, you should choose an array of healthy fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts, as well as whole grains. With all of the benefits of eating plant based, it’s probably worth the time to see if the diet could also work for you.
Editor’s Note: A.B. Gerrity RDN, LD, is a dietician from MEDDAC, Ireland Army Health Clinic at Fort Knox, Kentucky.