Did you know plant-based diets are the fastest growing dietary change in America? This is due, in part, to the surprising health benefits of eating more fruit, veg, and pulses. Learn how a plant-based diet can support your immune system, boost your energy levels, and more.
Go into any grocery store, and you’ll see many plant-based or vegan products. Oat and soy milk, meat-replacement products, and plant-heavy ready meals all cater to the changing attitudes toward meat and animal products.
Statista reports that the United States has one of the most developed markets for meat and dairy substitutes, despite being one of the largest consumers of meat in the world. People go plant-based because it’s better for the environment or to be kinder to animals, but also for the many health benefits it can offer.
What Is a Plant-Based Diet?
Plant-based diets mean that you’re avoiding foods that come from animals: no honey, no dairy milk, no eggs, and no meat. Milk can be replaced with non-dairy alternatives, many of which are packed with nutrients. Protein is easily obtainable from legumes and pulses, such as beans, peas, and lentils. Eggs are a little trickier — there’s no exact plant-based replica of a perfectly poached egg, for example! But you can use products like aquafaba to replace eggs in baked goods like muffins.
Not everyone goes 100% plant-based. Some just reduce meat and dairy or have “meat-free Mondays”: a single day every week where they avoid animal products. Increased volumes of fruits, vegetables, and pulses have some benefits, even if you still eat small amounts of meat and dairy.
Are Plant-Based Diets and Veganism the Same?
Not necessarily. Veganism goes beyond diet. It’s an entire lifestyle that avoids the exploitation of animals. For example, eliminating wearing and using wool, leather, and silk. It means buying health and beauty products certified “cruelty-free” or “vegan.” It also means checking that products like beer don’t use animal-based clearing agents — a common practice at many breweries.
The upshot is that you can have a plant-based diet without being vegan, but all vegans consume a plant-based diet. According to research experts Ipsos, 9.7 million Americans are now vegan or eating plant-based diets. Here are just some of the health and well-being benefits they could be experiencing.
5 Benefits of Plant-Based Diets
1. Improves Gut Health
Your “gut flora” means the bacteria that live in your digestive system. They help break down the foods you eat, but they can become imbalanced if your diet is poor. That’s why products like probiotic drinks and prebiotic supplements are big business, as people try to bring their gut health back into balance.
The best way to maintain a healthy gut is to eat more plants. Plants provide both fiber and natural prebiotics — fermentable carbohydrates that improve digestive efficiency. An unexpected benefit of improved digestive health is that it can also boost your mental well-being. Inflammation in the gut can cause an immune system reaction that sends a negative feedback signal to your brain via the gut-brain axis. Keeping your digestive system healthy could be a factor in improving your overall mental health.
2. Increases Energy Levels
A healthier gut means feeling less heavy and naturally boosts your energy levels. However, it’s not the only aspect of eating plant-based that can give you a bit more get-up-and-go. Plant-based eating involves fewer heavy fats and hard-to-digest proteins from meat. These are often replaced with carbohydrates, which, despite what many fad diets may state, are the absolute main source of energy for human beings.
Regular carb intake means more accessible energy, combined with larger volumes of essential vitamins and minerals. Put this all together, and you should feel more vibrant and energetic, which can also lead to an improved mood.
3. May Reduce Inflammation
Antioxidants are important because they deal with “free radicals” — unstable molecules that can cause cell damage. Guess where you get the most antioxidants from? Plants. You can get supplements and drinks that have added antioxidants, but they are not as “bioavailable” — put simply, you can’t absorb them as efficiently.
Eating more plants increases the volume of bioavailable antioxidants, naturally reducing the risk of cell damage and inflammation.
4. Can Help Protect Against Chronic Illness
Of course, every individual has different nutritional needs, and if you have an underlying health condition, always consult a doctor before changing your diet. However, current research indicates that switching to a plant-based diet could help protect you from several chronic diseases.
As well as improving overall heart health and potentially reducing blood pressure, eating more plants could lower your risk of kidney disease. Research shows that those suffering from renal conditions could even see improvements by removing animal products from their diet.
A plant-based diet could be linked to a lower risk of osteoporosis, a condition where the bones develop tiny holes and become prone to fracture. It’s essential to monitor your vitamin D and calcium intake, but many types of plant milk now contain added micronutrients to make it easier to boost your bone health.
5. Reduces the Risk of Stroke
Eating more plants is good for your brain — fact! Research shows that a high-quality, nutrient-rich plant-based diet reduces the risk of all types of stroke. A plant-heavy diet is also linked to reduced rates of Alzheimer’s disease.
Whether you go fully vegan or simply decide to cut down the amount of meat and dairy you eat, it’s clear that plant-based diets offer plenty of compelling health benefits. Remember, everyone’s body is unique, and there are no guarantees with any diet! Always speak to a medical professional before embarking on a drastically different diet.
It’s so simple these days to replace meat or dairy in your diet with delicious, nutritious alternatives, from fresh fruits and veggies to meat substitutes such as burgers and sausages. That's why more people than ever are embracing plant-based eating to support their health and well-being.