There has been an endless stream of hype surrounding the potential health benefits of consuming more plant-based foods. The growing body of research is continuously discovering and reaffirming the unique components of plant food that can both improve and protect the body, the mind, as well as the planet. Increased intake of highly fibrous, cholesterol free, nutrient-rich plant food, coinciding with reduced consumption of animal products, which are devoid of fibre and often contain higher levels of sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol, can have significant health benefits. This includes improved functioning, longevity and disease prevention or improvement.
Here are the six reasons as to why you should eat more plant food:
Cholesterol from the diet is found only in meat and animal products, both of which are also typically high in saturated fat. Increasing plant consumption and reducing the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet, has shown to greatly assist in lowering cholesterol levels in the body. This is beneficial, as cholesterol levels have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Increased intake of plant sterols or phytosterols, found predominantly in vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, legumes and some grains. They have shown to further reduce cholesterol levels, in particular, LDL cholesterol (often referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’). Most plant foods also contain predominantly monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, which have shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Besides, dietary fibre has also been proved to lower cholesterol levels and is a component found only in plant-based foods.
Lower Blood Pressure
High levels of sodium in the diet have been associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure or hypertension. This condition puts the body at higher risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney failure. Plant foods are generally lower in sodium than animal products. Diets with greater plant food consumption have a tendency to have lower sodium intakes and associated lower rates of hypertension. Additionally, plant foods such as beans, dark leafy greens and potatoes, contain some of the highest natural levels of potassium found in food, which has shown to lower blood pressure and balance the effects of sodium.
Blood Sugar Stabilisation and Weight Management
Fibre assists in stabilising blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream from the intestine. This helps to prevent blood sugar spikes which have been associated with diabetes and obesity. Fibre also slows the emptying of food from the stomach into the intestine, which helps you to feel fuller for longer. This has shown to help reduce snack cravings and aid in healthy weight loss and management. Besides, plant food is very nutrient dense per calorie and often low in fat, particularly when compared to animal products. Therefore, increasing the proportion of plant food in the diet can support healthy weight management.
There is also a strong association between diet and mental health. Although there are many factors involved, nutrient dense diets that include plenty of different plant food intake and reduced meat consumption have been associated with better mental health outcomes. Research has also found that nutritional deficiencies, which can arise from nutrient-poor diets, are associated with an increased risk of various mental health issues, such as depression. Fundamentally, a nutritionally balanced diet that is high in vitamins and minerals with adequate energy from complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and protein intakes promotes mood stabilisation, energy and a better sense of wellbeing.
The protective effects of Phytochemicals
It is believed that in addition to the essential vitamins, minerals and fibre derived from plants, phytochemicals have additional benefits in the prevention of disease. Phytochemicals are non-nutritive, biologically active compounds found in plants. There are more than a thousand known phytochemicals, such as phenolics, flavonoids and carotenoids which, are found in fruits and vegetables. They may play a significant role in reducing the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma and diabetes. There are a variety of ways these chemicals may perform their benefits. One such method is through antioxidant activity, which may prevent cancer from developing in the body. Increased consumption of these chemicals has been associated with longevity and better health outcomes.
Animal agriculture is currently the number one cause of rain forest destruction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, topsoil erosion and climate change. Reports have also found that per gram of protein, meat and animal products have a water footprint that is between 1.5 to 6 times greater than that for legumes. So in addition to the added health benefits of including more plant-based protein into the diet, it is far more environmentally sustainable.
So, go on and add more plant-based food in your diet. Your body and the planet will thank you for it.