Of all the advice we’re given throughout our lives, diet is one of the most confusing. Years ago we were told that eggs are good for you, then they caused heart disease, and then, were good for you again. We were advised against consuming saturated fat, and products started yelling “FAT FREE!” at us while containing gluts of syrupy sugar. We gave our kids fruit juice without realising that they were drinking liquid sugar and spiking their glucose levels.
It’s no wonder that we struggle to eat healthily. But thankfully, there’s a new recommended diet that is effective at keeping our bodies and minds in good condition—the plant-based diet. In this article, we’ll discuss how a plant based diet improves health, and which kinds of foods are best to eat.
What is a plant based diet?
A plant-based diet is a diet that consists mostly of plants, which includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. It isn’t vegetarianism—you can still eat animal food such as meat and dairy, just in much lower quantities. And it’s not a temporary quick-fix diet where you lose weight only to gain it back again six months later. While a plant based diet probably will help you to shed some kilos, it’s ultimately a lifestyle choice that will give you more energy, reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer, and help you to manage diabetes.
When you go to the supermarket, the produce section is where you’ll spend most of your time, and your trolley will become a rainbow of colour and texture. Some people are reluctant to eat plant-heavy meals, and while a head of cauliflower is never going to be as appetising as a tub of salted caramel ice-cream, it’s a common misconception that unhealthy foods taste better than healthy foods. People who believe this just haven’t learned how to cook delicious plant-based meals—and there’s plenty of them!
Health benefits of eating a plant based diet
The typical Western diet is replete with red meat and processed foods, where everything is fried and stacked with cheese. This is why Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom are in the top 20% for obesity rates across the world,1 with heart disease, cancer and diabetes common.
The solution? A plant-based diet. Here are some of the biggest benefits.
With obesity a major health issue for Westerners, one of the biggest health benefits of a plant based diet is losing weight. A review of 12 studies found that over 1,100 people lost a significant amount of weight after being assigned a plant-based diet, and other studies have shown that the weight stays off2.
Reduced risk of heart disease
When processed meat, fried foods, and sugar are replaced by vegetables, fruits, and nuts, your risk of heart disease drops. A large study found that over 200,000 people who followed a plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, legumes, and nuts had a significantly lower risk of developing heart disease2.
Reduced risk of cancer
A study with over 69,000 people found plant-based diets to significantly lower the risk of gastrointestinal cancer, and another study with 77,000 people found a reduced risk of colorectal cancer. In addition, vegetarians who occasionally eat fish were even better protected from colorectal cancer2.
Reduced risk of osteoporosis
You may be surprised to learn that a plant-based diet improves your bone strength, and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. This is because eating meat and dairy causes us to excrete more calcium, after it’s leached from our bones5.
Better mental health
Studies show that vegetarians are less likely to suffer from depression, stress, anxiety, and mood disturbance when compared to omnivores. This is thought to be a result of the higher level of antioxidants found in plants, which reduces the risk of depression and suicide rates3.
Reduced risk of diabetes
A recent study from Stockholm found that 22% of people diagnosed with pre-diabetes were able to prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes by embracing a plant-based diet4.
Reduced risk of cognitive decline
Some studies have shown plant-based diets to slow cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease for seniors. Again, this is thought to be as result of the high level of antioxidants found in plants2.
How to eat a plant based diet
Eating a plant-based diet isn’t as difficult as people assume, you’ll just need to experiment with different meals to discover what you enjoy.
Essentially, you should eat meals that contain the following ingredients:
- Fruits—citrus fruits, peaches, bananas, berries, etc.
- Vegetables—kale, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, etc.
- Potatoes (regular or sweet)
- Whole grains—brown rice, oats, quinoa, brown rice, etc.
- Healthy fats—avocados, olive oil, coconut oil
- Legumes—peas, chickpeas, black beans, etc.
- Seeds and nuts—almonds, macadamias, cashews, etc.
- Plant-based milks—coconut milk, almond milk, etc.
- Plant-based protein—tofu, tempeh, etc.
You can still eat meat and dairy from time to time, just not as the centrepiece of your meal. If you allow yourself meat or dairy as the occasional treat, you might find that you appreciate it more.
- Global Obesity Levels, Procon.org
- Whole-Foods, Plant-Based Diet: A Detailed Beginner’s Guide, Healthline
- mental health | Health Topics, Nutrition Facts
- Type 2 Diabetes and Plant-Based Diets, Healthline
- Ben Brown MD, Diet’s Effect on Osteoporosis, Ornish Lifestyle Medicine