Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
There’s nothing more American than a diet that revolves around meat and potatoes.
However, considering that roughly two-thirds of adults in the U.S. are overweight (about half of that number are considered obese) and heart disease, stroke, and diabetes all fall into the top 10 leading causes of death in this country (heart disease being number one), it’s time to rethink this outdated diet mentality.
More people are cutting meat from their diet and turning to plant-based alternatives to eat healthier and, in some cases, lead a more sustainable lifestyle. What is a plant-based diet? How does it differ from vegetarian or vegan options? What are the benefits of a plant-based diet? Here’s what you need to know.
Plant-Based Diet vs. Vegan: What’s the Difference?
At a glance, vegan and plant-based diets look suspiciously similar. Both eschew meat and animal products (eggs, dairy, etc.) in favor of plant-based food sources (fruits, veggies, grains, nuts, seeds, and so on). The major difference lies in the philosophy behind choosing the diet.
The vegan lifestyle focuses on eliminating all animal products, primarily for ethical and environmental reasons, although health concerns are a common factor, as well. Ethical vegans not only follow a strict, plant-based diet, but they avoid animal products like silk and leather that rely on animal exploitation for commercial gain.
Keep in mind that a vegan diet could include many processed foods that happen to be free of meat and animal products, impacting the overall health benefits.
Starting a plant-based diet that isn’t specifically vegan is a bit different. It focuses more on eating whole foods as a means of creating a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, but it doesn’t necessarily prohibit the occasional addition of meat or animal products.
Vegetarians generally avoid meat, but not animal products, so plant-based might be closer to, say, the Mediterranean diet. It’s largely plant-based but includes items like fish, yogurt, and cheese occasionally.
Improve Heart Health
Adding cardiopulmonary exercise to your routine is a great way to improve heart health, but your diet plays a major role, as well. You’ve no doubt heard the phrase “you are what you eat,” and when it comes to heart-healthy foods, a plant-based diet can make a big difference.
We all know that high cholesterol is a bad thing, as it could lead to deposits in arteries that ultimately cause a heart attack or stroke. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is equally alarming, as it could cause hardening of the arteries, resulting in heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, or other health concerns.
Diets high in meat, specifically red meat, have been linked to increased risks for heart disease, including high cholesterol and hypertension. Plant-based diets, on the other hand, could help to prevent or even reduce high blood pressure and bad (LDL) cholesterol.
Enhance Weight Management
Meat is known as a rich source of protein, but unfortunately, it’s also high in calories and fat, which can contribute to weight gain, among other issues common to diets high in meat. Even if you consume the same caloric volume, your body digests vegetables and whole grains faster than meat, and many fruits and veggies are high in fiber. All of this helps you feel satisfied longer.
This diet can not only improve gut health and reduce overall caloric intake over time, but it can aid in weight loss and help to prevent or combat diabetes, among other plant-based diet benefits.
Elevate Your Fitness Routine
Everyone knows it’s important to get plenty of protein and carbohydrates after training, but what you might not know is that you can still get needed nutrients when you switch to a plant-based diet. You have to learn how to get protein on a plant-based diet and consume adequate nutrients.
It’s essential to include plenty of beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and combinations of ingredients that together deliver complete proteins (think classic rice and beans, for one). Quinoa is a great option as it contains all nine essential amino acids, along with about 8 grams of plant protein and 5 grams of fiber per 1-cup serving.
Plant-based diets may also help to decrease inflammation, which is why athletes like Venus Williams, Alex Morgan, Colin Kaepernick, and more have transitioned to this healthy diet. The best athletic gear can up your game, but when paired with the right diet, you could see greater improvement in your fitness routine.
Boost Your Mood by Starting a Plant-Based Diet
There’s a lot you can do to improve mental health, from examining and understanding emotions to engaging in deep breathing to exercising regularly. However, if you’re neglecting the role your diet plays in mental and emotional health, you’re missing an opportunity to prime your body for better health overall.
It turns out that food and your mood are inextricably linked, and a 5-year study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that the health benefits of a plant-based diet included increased instances of positive mood (for vegetarians versus omnivorous consumers) and fewer symptoms of depression.
Reduce Carbon Emissions
While the carbon footprint of agriculture is a complex topic, it’s pretty easy to see that one of the major plant-based diet benefits is reduced carbon emissions.
According to a much-cited 2018 study on the environmental impact of food production, livestock accounts for roughly 18% of caloric intake worldwide but represents 83% of the agricultural footprint.
In the U.S., agriculture produces an estimated 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA (not including the amount that shipping food contributes to the 29% ascribed to transportation). When you switch to a plant-based diet, you’re using your consumer dollars to vote for plant-based agriculture over meat-based.