With more people switching to plant-based diets, it looks like the trend is here to stay. As per a study, presently over 9.7 million people in the west have switched to plant-based diets growing from only 290,000 back in 2004. It is a healthier way of living, and the reduction in the environmental footprint is an added bonus.
Are you also thinking about making the switch but aren’t sure if it’s right for you? If yes, then you will find everything that you need to know about the pros and cons of a plant-based diet here!
What is a plant-based diet?
A whole-food, plant-based (WFPB)diet means consuming foods that mostly come from plants. It can be sourced from five food groups, including fruits, vegetables, tubers (root vegetables) whole grains, and legumes. It is often confused with a vegan diet, which means avoiding all animal-based products. Those who consume a plant-based diet may or may not eat meat or dairy products.
A WFPB diet can be divided into types-
Whole Food: It contains natural and unprocessed foods. These foods are whole and unrefined, with all the nutrients intact.
Plant-based: It means food that is derived from plants and no animal-based food products.
What are the benefits of a plant-based diet?
Plants are a treasure trove of wellness benefits and help you develop a healthier lifestyle. Here’s every reason why you should eat a plant-based diet:
1. Easy weight management
A plant-based diet can help you lose weight. It decreases the risk of obesity. People who eat plant-based foods are more likely to be leaner in comparison to the meat-eaters. In a case study published in Nutrition and Diabetes Journal, participants noticed a significant reduction in their Body Mass Index (BMI), after following WFPB diet for 6 months.
This is because whole grains and vegetables have a low glycemic index, and fruits have fibre that keeps you full for longer durations. They suppress your cravings, thus supporting weight loss.
2. Lowers blood pressure
Consuming plant-based foods can help keep your blood pressure in check which is the root cause of several health complications. According to the JAMA Internal Medicine, people who consume vegetarian diets have lower blood pressure as compared with those who follow an non-vegetarian or semi-vegetarian diet. Also, in a study from the Journal of Hypertension, it was proved that vegetarians have a 34% lower risk of developing hypertension, which could further save you from blood pressure complications.
3. Keeps your heart healthy
Switching to a WFPB diet can lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases. The saturated fat in non-vegetarian foods like meat can cause heart-related complications. A study published in the Journal of American Heart Association stated that “diets higher in plant foods and lower in animal foods were associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in a general population”.
It also keeps the cholesterol levels in check to reduce the risk of heart stroke or attacks. A plant-based diet can lower plasma cholesterol levels and is effective in the treatment of Dyslipidemia, a serious cardiovascular disease.
4. May prevent type-2 diabetes
Plant-based diet reduces insulin resistance. This in turn improves insulin sensitivity and thus can help manage diabetes. As per PLOS Medicine, a high-quality plant-based diet can lower the risk of developing type-2 diabetes. It requires the person to consume more healthy plant foods and less animal-based foods, especially meat.
5. Improves brain health
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Having plant-based foods can reduce the risk of cognitive impairment with age. A study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience concluded that “the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia was reduced by 20% for a higher consumption of fruit and vegetables, and by 13% for an increment of 100 g per day of fruit and vegetable consumption”.
6. Reduces the risk of cancer
Cancer is one of mankind’s greatest enemies. Although the evidence is limited, as per a report of Cancer Management and Research, there is a reduced risk of the disease in people who adhere to a plant-based diet. Mayo Clinic states that plants produce phytochemicals that prevent cells from undergoing damage. Young women who eat fibre-rich foods are 25% less likely to develop breast cancer in later life.
7. Increases longevity
Consuming a WFPB diet can extend your life expectancy as it lowers the risk of many life-threatening diseases. A recent review published in The BMJ concluded that an additional 3% of energy from plant proteins a day is associated with a 5% lower risk of death from all causes. This is even more effective when you cut down on your animal-based food consumption.
Above all, a plant-based diet helps reduce the environmental footprint. You are not only taking care of yourself but also the environment.
Does it have any drawbacks?
Unfortunately, yes. A plant-based diet has a few drawbacks that you might want to know about before making the switch. However, this usually happens due to the lack of proper meal planning. Take a look:
- Nutritional deficiency: Consuming only plant-based foods may not meet the nutritional requirements of the body. Your essential fatty acid and protein intake are most likely to go down. The lack of Vitamin B12 that usually comes from meat can cause health problems like anaemia and even neurological disorders.
You might have to take extra vitamin supplements to fulfil the nutritional needs of the body.
- Less absorption: Plant nutrients are less absorbed in the body as compared to animal proteins. You have to increase your intake for better absorption of the former. Also, they can disrupt the absorption of certain minerals in the digestive tract.
Things to Consider when starting a plant-based diet
Here are a few things you need to keep in mind to make your switch to a plant-based diet as smooth as possible:
- Take it slow: You don’t have to change the whole diet at once. Choose a few plant-based recipes to rotate through over the course of a week. Try to avoid meat as much as possible but do not force yourself.
- Know your food: Some foods are highly saturated and processed which can prove harmful in the long run. Educate yourself about the foods you eat and adjust them in your meal plan accordingly.
- Watch your protein: Anything in excess is poison. Do not consume plant-based proteins in excessive amounts to compensate for the lack of animal protein. The average protein required is equal to one gram per kilogram of our body weight.
- Cut down on meat and processed foods: Try decreasing the proportion of meat and processed foods on your plate. This will allow your body to slowly get used to it. Swap them for green foods.
- Stock up on seasonal foods: On your grocery shopping spree, always opt for seasonal fruits and vegetables. These fresh foods have amazing health benefits and are not covered in preservatives and even pesticides. You can also buy kale chips, tofu, almond milk, etc. If you have space, set up a kitchen garden to grow some fresh veggies.
Making the switch to a plant-based diet is the first step toward a healthy lifestyle, but only if done correctly. The benefits are huge but you also need to consider the drawbacks. Proper meal planning can help you in this endeavour. It’s better to consult a dietician who can help you put a meal plan together. Also, make sure it suits your needs and fits your lifestyle.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Is having a plant-based diet the same as being vegan?
A. Although many times these terms are used interchangeably, they are a bit different. A whole-food, plant-based diet means consuming foods that come from plants with occasionally delving into animal-based products such as dairy or meat. They also reduce their high-refined food intake.
Whereas as a vegan, you avoid all the animal-based products not only in food but also clothing, shoes, etc. They may or may not eat refined foods.
Q. How do I know if a whole-food, plant-based diet is right for me?
A. Unless you try it, you won’t know. You can start by making small swaps and see how your body responds to them. It will take some time, but eventually, you will get used to it. It’s good to consult your dietician before making the switch.
Q. Is a plant-based diet more expensive?
A. On the contrary, a plant-based diet is quite cost-effective. Whole foods and fresh seasonal foods cost way less than meat and fish. You can easily plan a meal around these foods and get healthier along the way.
Q. How do I follow a plant-based diet when I’m eating out?
A. Many restaurants these days offer vegan and plant-based options. You can dine at such places or even tell your preferences in a dish to make it more plant-based.
Q. What do I eat for breakfast on a plant-based diet?
A. The best way to get started on a plant-based diet is through breakfast. You can have chia seed pudding, smoothies, parfaits, Quinoa breakfast bowls, etc. Pick up some cookbooks or take the recipes from the internet.
The priority, in this blog, is to supply the reader with clear and unambiguous information. However, neither The New Me nor Gagan Dhawan makes promises, or guarantees regarding the completeness of the information found here. The content is not a replacement for advice of a licensed professional. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely that of the writer’s.