By now you’re probably well-aware of the fact that cutting back on meat and dairy can lead to some promising health improvements. But is soil-grown food all it’s cracked up to be? The reality is that study after study has confirmed what we already know — going plant-based can help us lose weight, lower risk of heart disease and diabetes and even quell tummy troubles. In this guide, we’ll cover the plant-based basics to help you decide if it’s a diet you want to adopt.
What Is a Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based diet is a diet that involves consuming mostly foods derived from plants rather than animals. It eliminates or reduces the consumption of meat, eggs and dairy and emphasizes the consumption of fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, mushrooms, grains and other foods derived from plants. Contrary to popular belief, plant-based doesn’t mean raw, green or boring. After all, some of the best foods — pasta, bread, corn, olive oil, fruit and more — grow straight out of the ground!
Vegan, vegetarian, raw vegan and flexitarian are some interpretations of this kind of diet. Unlike stricter vegan or vegetarian diets, the term “plant-based” indicates a diet that is rooted (pun intended) in plants. Many people who follow this type of diet do integrate small amounts of meat, dairy and seafood into their diet, while keeping most meals plant-derived. However, with the advent of high-quality plant-based protein powder and impressive meat-like substitutes, eliminating animal proteins from your diet is easier than you might expect.
Here are some key reasons why you might want to make the shift to less meat and dairy:
- It Can Help Lower Cholesterol — According to one study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, following a vegetarian diet can effectively lower cholesterol, including low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol as well as a variety of other kinds of cholesterol that affect heart health. As you know, keeping cholesterol levels in check is crucial to staving off clogged arteries, which can lead to heart attack or stroke.
- It Can Help Lower Blood Pressure — What’s more, studies have shown that eating fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure). Along with regular exercise, following a plant-based diet is an excellent way to help lower your risk of developing heart disease.
- It Can Help You Lose Weight — Another well-proven benefit of plant-based diets is their ability to help you lose weight. A study in Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy showed that a plant-based diet has beneficial health effects, helping overweight people lose weight and lower BMI. According to the study, this is because a meat- and dairy-free diet consists of more fiber, polyunsaturated fats and plant proteins. In exchange, it lowers the consumption of saturated fats and animal proteins which can contribute to weight gain. Another study showed that participants who followed a vegan diet lost an average of 9.5 pounds, while the control group lost 0.2 pounds.
- It Can Help with Digestion — One of the biggest impacts of going plant-based is an increase in fiber consumption, which could help lessen stomach issues like diarrhea, constipation, gas and bloating. Animal and dairy proteins such as casein, whey and others are notoriously hard to digest, while plant-based ones tend to require less from the body. Vegan and vegetarian diets often don’t eliminate other common triggers such as the plant-based protein gluten, but supplementation can help. Taking supplemental digestive enzymes along with your plant-based diet can do wonders for improving gastrointestinal symptoms. Some digestive enzyme benefits may include increased nutrient absorption, a boost in energy and reduced symptoms of irritable bowel disease (IBD).
- It Can Control and Prevent Type 2 Diabetes — The American Diabetes Association published a study showing that a low-fat, vegan diet improves glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes. Research shows that low-fat, plant-based foods can help control blood sugar levels three times more effectively than a traditional diabetes diet that only restricts calories and carbs. Eliminating meat, eggs and dairy from your diet is a good way to help lower your diabetes risk or get existing diabetes under control.
- It May Decrease Your Risk of Cancer — As if we needed one more reason to cut back on the steak and burgers, going plant-based may help reduce the risk of cancer. Though more research is needed, Mayo Clinic reports that this may be because plants produce special chemicals (called phytochemicals) that protect cells from damage. Additionally, plant-based diets may aid in fighting cancer because they contain more fiber and because they naturally help people maintain a lower weight.
How to Successfully Transition to Plant-Based
Most people have no trouble transitioning to a plant-based diet, but you need to make sure you do it properly. You should always consult your physician before making any drastic changes to your health, especially if you have any pre-existing conditions or a history of disordered eating. Make sure to take a daily multivitamin and track what you eat to ensure that you’re hitting the right amount of protein (supplementing with protein shakes or bars as necessary) and getting all of your recommended nutrients each day.
If you believe you’re a good candidate for going plant-based, set yourself up for success by taking baby steps and swapping out your favorite animal-based foods for plant-based alternatives. Today, there’s so much more on the grocery store shelves than just bland, frozen veggie burgers. A huge selection of meat substitutes, plant-based milks and vegan snacks makes swapping easy, so you won’t miss the meat at all. You’ll even find delicious plant-based eggs, lunch meats and cheeses in most major grocery stores.
Giving Plant-Based a Go
Everyone is different and has their own medical history to consider, but most people can adopt a plant-based diet safely with no adverse health effects. Since it’s largely considered safe and effective, there’s no harm in giving this kind of diet a go! Chances are, it will have a positive impact on your health.