‘Plant-based’ diets have become an extremely popular option for many people and research is continuing to show that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is beneficial for our health. Even Beyoncé has been embracing the benefits, following a plant-based diet to assist her preparations for her most recent performance at Coachella. She made headlines when she told her 114 million Instagram fans that they, too, should be joining her plant-based movement.
A plant-based diet revolves around the concept of eating more whole, plant foods and less meat, dairy, eggs or processed foods. Basically, anything that you can eat that grew from a plant: fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. It doesn’t mean you have to give up meat, simply eat a majority of plant foods. Health experts around the world have been raving for years about the health benefits of eating plant foods. Recently they have even been linking diets containing a higher ratio of plant-based foods with decreased risks of certain diseases.
Here at Food Matters, we don’t need any convincing, and neither does Beyoncé, so here are 10 reasons to eat a more plant-based diet.
1. They Are Nutrient Dense
Eating a variety of plant foods provides your body with essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fats. The reason these nutrients are essential is because without them your body can’t function properly and would eventually develop deficiencies that spiral into diseases and promote the onset of early death. Sounds quite extreme, but it’s true. That’s why it’s recommended to eat plenty of different plant foods every day to ensure you are getting all these essential nutrients that your body needs to function at its best.
2. They Have Super Powers
Plant foods also contain the highest amounts of the natural chemicals known as ‘phytonutrients’ - more than 25,000 to be exact. Although they aren’t essential to keep you alive, they are considered as your body's biologically active super heros when it comes to fighting inflammation, tackling harmful free radicals, preventing diseases and promoting longevity. Interestingly, ‘phyto’ is literally the Greek word for plant, so when you put it together it's ‘plant-nutrients’ that give your body its healing powers. To be honest, you can find some phytonutrients in meats, eggs and dairy, but only in small amounts - all the more reason to eat as many plants as you can.
3. High In Fiber And Great For Digestion
Are you straining in the bathroom or struggling with problematic poo? As much as it is equally important to check this out further, sometimes the underlying reasons for our poo problems surrounds good old-fashioned fiber. Apparently we aren’t getting enough fiber, which is probably because we also aren’t eating enough of the only food that naturally contains it: plants. Natural fiber is found in a variety of plant foods such as vegetables, fruits and legumes. It is the indigestible parts of these plants that our bodies simply don’t have enzymes to break down, but this fiber is extremely important for aiding digestion. This explains why so many people are experiencing trouble in the number 2 department. There are four different types of fiber: insoluble, soluble, resistant, and prebiotic fiber - all with equally important roles in our digestive health. Not only does fiber support a healthy bowel movement, it can make you feel fuller for longer and prevent certain diseases, specifically type 2 diabetes.
4. Help Manage Your Weight
Plant foods, especially vegetables and fruit, have virtually no calories. In fact, if you load up every meal with these types of plant foods you can slow down the rate of sugar being released into your blood, avoiding those sugar highs and lows. Plus they can actually make you feel more satisfied, reducing the need to keep eating. With the obesity epidemic getting worse, we couldn’t be at a more critical time to start taking what we eat more seriously. We need to stop eating those calorie dense, overly processed foods and enjoy more wholesome plant foods.
5. Protect Against Chronic Diseases!
Eating more plant foods, especially fruits and vegetables for their protective health benefits, is age-old wisdom your grandma could have told you in her sleep. Unfortunately what your grandma has to say hasn’t always been the best proof in our Western medical system. Fortunately, health experts have been researching the health benefits of diets high in plant-based foods to back her up and the odds are stacking up, suggesting that eating plants has a protective role against major chronic diseases. High intake of plant foods can decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers, especially those of the digestive system, whereas low intake can increase your risk. Unless you're living in the Stone Age you would be aware that these diseases are some of the biggest killers of the twenty first century; all the more reason to listen to your grandmother, or rather the health experts, and eat more plant foods!
6. Everyone Recommends Them
You remember your mum saying “eat your vegetables!” at the dinner table and your doctor advising you to eat more greens when you complained about being run down. Because of their amazing health benefits promotion, of plant foods has never been higher. Even governments around the world are getting behind them and recommending you to eat more. Check out the dietary guidelines of almost every country in the world and plant foods, such as whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables almost always make up the largest food categories, as is the case in the USA and Australia. You might also be familiar with different public health programs and campaigns used to encourage you to eat more, especially fruit and vegetables, such as the ‘5 A Day for Better Health’ in the USA and the ‘Go For 2 & 5’ fruit and vegetable campaign in Australia. We all know of a different culture, religion or diet that restricts you from eating meat, dairy or fish, but how many have you heard of that don’t eat plant foods? The answer is ‘not many that could possibly restrict you from the goodness of plant foods!’ Regardless of who you are, where you come from or whatever dietary title you live by, most of us can’t deny the amazing health properties of plants.
7. We Aren't Eating Enough!
Despite the well known and proven health benefits, plus the endless promotion from governments and health experts, many developed countries including the USA and Australia are not meeting the recommendations and people are simply not eating enough plant foods. More than 70% of Americans are not eating enough vegetables or fruits and more than 40% aren't eating enough grains, whereas most Americans are exceeding the recommendations for added sugars, saturated fats and sodium. In other words, something terribly wrong is going on and people need to eat way more plant foods than they already are!
8. It's Healthier For The Environment
Incorporating more plant-based proteins into your diet and less meat can have a massive impact on the size of your ecological footprint. Growing plants emit far less emissions than resource intensive animal products. In fact the agricultural industry including fisheries, forestry, and livestock production, is responsible for a fifth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. If everyone ate more plant foods and less meat we would not only cut greenhouse gas emissions but also conserve land from the endless deforestation for agricultural grazing. In fact, the food grown to feed livestock is enough to feed the whole word and even end world hunger. Remember that every time you do eat from your plate you are voting with your knife and fork for the kind of world you want to live in. Every mouthful you take sends a message down the food chain to the government about the kind of food system you support. Why not choose forks over knives and eat a more sustainable diet lower in meat and higher in plant foods? Sure it’s good for your health, but also that of the environment. Vote for wellness and the future of the planet!
9. Animals Have Rights, Too!
The global population is on the rise placing a huge amount of pressure on our food supply, with the demand for animal products at an all-time high. To meet this demand farmers all around the world are relying on factory farming, but the ecological impact of this is huge and the treatment of the animals within this system is nothing short of inhumane. For some reason we humans have this selfish perception that we are the superior beings and seem to close a blind eye to the treatment of other beings for our own benefit. Stop and think about it - good health actually goes much further than just what you put on your plate. Of course this is important, but your overall health is much more detailed than just your physical self; it encompasses the health of all living beings and the shared environment you live in.
10. Save Money
Forget about saving the planet for just a few minutes and consider how much money you could save if you ate less meat and more plant foods. Meat can actually be quite expensive, especially compared to some of your plant-based protein alternatives, like beans, lentils and chickpeas. These foods, besides being some of the cheapest in the supermarket, also go much further in quantity when compared to price. But maybe you're still under the impression that eating healthy is more expensive? Well think again, because by simply incorporating more plant foods into your diet you can actually save money. Do this by shopping at your local Farmers' Market where you can often find some of the cheapest prices and freshest produce, giving you more value for your money. Plus you could start your own small garden and not pay a cent for your tomatoes ever again.
With global populations larger than ever before in human history, the ecological impact of factory farming at an all time high, and the rates of chronic disease matching in magnitude, we need to embrace a plant-centered diet now more than ever before. We understand that making these changes to your eating patterns can be very overwhelming; simply start slow and make small shifts in your food choices. This can still make a huge difference and is one healthy step in the right direction.