Plant-based diets are becoming more and more popular around the world. There are several reasons why people choose to eat more plant-based foods. For many, the reason is the health benefits of plant foods. This article will review 8 science-based benefits of plant foods.
1. The plant-based diet provides high amount of important nutrients
When you eat whole food plant-based foods in the form of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nut, and seeds; you get the highest intake of many important vitamins and minerals. Vegans have the highest intake of fiber, iron, folate, vitamin B1, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, beta-carotene, magnesium, and potassium (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Also, vegans have the lowest intake of saturated fat and cholesterol (1).
2. The plant-based diet is effective for weight loss
Obesity has continued to increase in the US and worldwide. People who desire weight loss are turning to a plant-based diet, and rightfully so. Vegans and vegetarians are generally thinner than meat-eaters. Vegans typically have the lowest body mass index (BMI) (6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11). In contrast, body weight tends to increase as the frequency of eating meat increases (12).
Plant-based diets are very effective for weight loss, even without exercise or calorie restriction (14, 15, 16, 17, 18). Plant foods contain lower fat, higher water, and higher fiber. Because of this, vegans eat fewer calories even when they eat until they were full (14, 16). In addition, vegetarians seem to burn more calories at rest (16, 19).
3. The plant-based effectively lowers blood cholesterol
High blood cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease. Since there are no symptoms, a large number of adults are not diagnosed and treated (20). Blood cholesterol is much lower in vegetarians, especially vegans, than in meat-eaters (21, 22, 23, 25). In studies, vegans had an amazing 30% lower blood cholesterol than non-vegetarians (24, 25).
Animal foods are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which increases blood cholesterol ( 29). Multiple studies have proved that blood cholesterol level can be reduced by up to 32% by simply replacing animal foods with plant foods rich in fiber, soy, and nuts (18, 26, 27, 28, 30). Replacing saturated fat in the diet with plant foods can reduce the risk of heart disease by about 30%, similar to the effect of medications (31).
4. The plant-based diet is good for lowering blood pressure
Many studies show that vegans and vegetarians have lower blood pressures, and a lower rate of hypertension than meat-eaters. In one study, 42% of non-vegetarians had hypertension compared with only 13% of vegetarians. Eating a lot of protein, especially from meat, increases your blood pressure (32). Because 14% of all deaths are associated with hypertension (33), decreasing your blood pressure will decrease your risk of death (34).
The vegetarian diet, especially vegan diet have effectively decreased blood pressure in many studies (35). Part of the reason is because vegan and vegetarian diets are high in potassium and fiber, and low in saturated fat which all help reduce blood pressure.
5. The plant-based diet is beneficial for decreasing the risk of heart disease
Heart disease is the most common cause of death worldwide, accounting for 1 in 4 deaths (36). Vegans and vegetarians have a 30-40% lower risk of heart disease than non-vegetarians (37, 38). Additionally, vegetarians with heart disease have a lower rate of death compared to meat-eaters (38, 39, 40). One of the studies showed that the chance of dying from heart disease was 30% higher in meat-eaters (39). This is not surprising because vegans and vegetarians have lower cholesterol, lower weight, and lower blood pressure. All these factors contribute to heart disease and death.
6. Plant-based diet helps to prevent and control diabetes
On average, vegetarians have a lower rate of type 2 diabetes, though the vegans have the lowest rate (41, 42, 43). Type 2 diabetes is three times more likely to occur in meat-eaters than in vegetarians (44). Likewise, your chance of getting diabetes increases as the amount of meat you eat increases (44).
For people with diabetes, simply switching to a plant-based diet, improves how the body responds to insulin and blood sugar (45, 46, 47). This leads to a dramatic reduction in diabetes medications, especially when combined with exercise (46).
7. Plant-based diet helps decrease your risk of getting cancer
Of the different types of cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer have a strong association to diet. The Adventist Health Study showed that non-vegetarians had a 54% higher chance for prostate cancer and an 88% higher chance for colorectal cancer (48). Several other studies have also shown that diets high in red meat, especially processed meat are associated with an increase in colon cancer (50, 51, 52).
8. Plant-based diet helps decrease your risk of stroke
Stroke is a leading cause of death in the US and worldwide. Evidence suggests that diet effects the occurrence and death from stroke (56). The risk factors of stroke like high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, heart diesase and diabetes are all decreased by the vegetarian diet. Fruits and vegetables are protective against stroke (57). On the other hand, eating red meat increases the risk of stroke (58).
The vegan and vegetarian diet is nutrient rich and is effective for weight loss. Plant-based diets lower the rate of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers. It is clear that this diet can be an effective way to prevent and treat these diseases.