There are many reasons that people adopt a plant-based lifestyle, ranging from personal health reasons to environmental and animal welfare concerns. There is no set definition of how a plant-based diet must look. It could be a vegan diet, but it might include some meat or dairy. Although the description is somewhat subjective, plants are the primary focus. Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds are all plant-based foods. Everyone has their opinion about which dietary regimes are the best or healthiest, but there is little dispute about the health benefits of plant-based foods.
Of course, there are plenty of highly processed sugar-laden vegan foods that technically originated from plants. But when we talk about plant-based foods, we’re talking about the little-processed ones, sometimes referred to as whole foods. Contrary to commonly held beliefs, you can be fit on a plant-based diet. Studies on vegan diets show that well-planned vegan diets compare well to control groups or other diets and offer a range of health benefits. Here are some of the top reasons to eat more plant-based foods.
Fibre is crucial for optimal health on several levels and is only in plant-based foods. Some types are prebiotics, which means they feed your “good” gut bacteria and help it to thrive. Fibre bulks up your stools, making them easier to pass and promoting good bowel health. It also helps with blood sugar control, which may reduce diabetes risk and make weight loss easier.
[Find out more about the benefits of fibre in “Fibre: What it is, why it’s essential, and how to know whether you’re getting enough”].
Plant-based foods are by far your best source of phytonutrients. Also known as phytochemicals, these are compounds that plants produce to protect themselves and stay healthy. Phytonutrients not only support plant health; they also play a crucial role in human health. Although they are not essential for life, they play supportive roles in disease prevention and optimal health.
There are many thousands of different phytonutrients. Carotenoids and flavonoids are two notable classes of phytonutrients with health-promoting benefits. They act as antioxidants, helping fight free radicals in the body and reducing disease risk. Within each category of phytonutrients, there are several individual types. For example, catechins such as those found in green tea, hesperidin found in citrus fruits, and flavonols such as quercetin (in apples, berries, kale, and onion) are all types of flavonoids.
So what’s the bottom line? Plants have a wide range of health-promoting phytonutrients that help us be healthier.
Sure, many dietary approaches, including meat-based ones, can result in weight loss. Plant-based diets can have a positive impact on weight loss for several reasons. The fibre content in plant foods promotes satiety and blood sugar control. Plant-based foods such as vegetables and whole grains are also relatively low on the glycaemic index (GI). The combination of fibre and low GI helps keep cravings under control, so you’re less likely to reach for that sugary snack. It’s also harder to overdo the calories with plant-based foods.
Again, we’re talking about a well-balanced plant-based eating regime here. Other nutrition factors such as adequate protein and fat will also affect weight loss.
[Find out more in “Myth-busting: You can only lose weight by cutting carbs”].
Research shows that plant-based diets can improve health markers such as blood pressure and cholesterol. When health markers are at ideal levels, the risk for diseases such as diabetes or heart disease is lower.
Plant foods can also reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, risk factors associated with diseases such as arthritis and cancer. There is likely a complex interaction of factors at play here. Fruits and vegetables, for example, contain a vast range of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Phytonutrients such as flavonoids and other antioxidants such as vitamin C may contribute to the positive impact.
Plant-based whole foods offer far-reaching health benefits. They play essential roles in promoting healthy cells and systems in the body. Plant foods help us develop more robust immune systems and are associated with longevity. Plant-based diets are often positively correlated with health markers and disease prevention. Finally, adopting a plant-based approach to eating can help you achieve your health and fitness goals, especially those related to general health or weight loss.