Have you been wondering why more physicians and health industry experts are advocating for plant based diets? There are many reasons to choose the path of plant based living aside from the ethical reasons. Here are the top 20 benefits that are backed by scientists and researchers to prove why vegans and vegetarians are leading healthier lives.
Top 20 Health Benefits of Plant Based Living
- Weight Loss – Since animal-based foods are usually high in fat & calories, eliminating them from your diet is a great way to start losing weight. While not all diets are created equal, there are studies showing that diets rich in vegetable fats were more likely to boost your metabolism. Unlike many fad diets, we have already been eating fruits & veggies for ages, making a plant based lifestyle easier to follow. This means that while results are not overnight, they are more likely to be long lasting than a yo-yo diet. Research has also shown that people who follow a vegan diet tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) (Source).
- Less Acne – Some studies report that consuming a diet high in animal protein can be linked to increased acne. Why is that? Well, our bodies contain a protein-complex called mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) that is responsible for healthy cell growth & function. Some researchers believe that this turns on the pathway for the body to create acne breakouts. This complex is activated by specific nutrients like amino acids including leucine. What may or may not come as a surprise is meats like beef, chicken, whey, egg (and even soy) are particularly high in this amino acid. When (mTORC1) is overstimulated by the consumption of these types of foods, it can affect your skin’s oil production, cell growth and even lead to inflammation. Lucine also blocks your sebaceous glands leaving that excess oil trapped under the skin…yikes! If you’re vegetarian, it’s important to know that dairy also plays a role in acne not only because it contains high amounts of leucine but also leads you to consume unnecessary hormones. That’s what I’d call a double whammy! Going vegan isn’t going to be the end all cure for your acne because our bodies have naturally occurring hormones that can be fluctuated due to puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, and even stress. However, it can improve the health of your skin by keeping both your hormones & (mTORC1) production under control (Source).
- More Energy – Have you ever felt tired after eating a thick burger or steak? Have you ever wondered why everyone is so ready for a nap on Thanksgiving after a turkey meal? That’s because animal products, including meat contain a number of natural chemical toxins, saturated fat, and elements that make our digestive system work overtime. You’ll also feel the need to eat more when on an animal based diet because your protein intake is typically higher than other nutrients leading to fatigue and those dreaded hunger pangs. This happens especially when you are cutting carbohydrates, so that low-carb diet may be doing you more harm than good! When you eliminate animal products from your diet, lightens up your entire system. Because plants are easier on the stomach, your body is able to process these nutrients and convert them to energy more quickly. You’ll also see below why plant based living is a lot kinder to the body, giving you less to combat so you can focus on truly living! (Source)
- Better GI Regulation – Speaking of digestion, research shows that people who over consume protein, specifically animal based protein, have higher risks of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Consuming meat and dairy alters your gut microbiome, increasing your risk of inflammation. Foods containing antibiotics also increase your risk of serious infections and promote resistance over time. While it’s great to eliminate the bad bacteria in your gut, it’s not good to remove all of it. You still need a healthy balance to maintain a healthy weight, fighting infections and other important functions of your body. It’s important to remember that gut health doesn’t just affect energy and your metabolism…it also plays an important role in liver and mental health, so it’s important to keep it in check (Source).
- Lower Cholesterol – Our bodies naturally produce cholesterol which is needed for every cell in our body to function. However, the liver makes most of the cholesterol that a person needs. Your levels depend on genetics, body weight, diet quality & exercise. While you can’t control your genetics, you can control the other factors that can contribute to it’s increase. If you are already at risk for heart disease, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your cholesterol levels. It’s vital to consume cholesterol in your diet, but the amount present in many animal based products like meat, dairy and eggs comes at an increased risk because of the amount of saturated fat these items have. A vegan diet significantly reduces saturated fat intake, but doesn’t cut it out altogether so you don’t have to worry about eliminating it altogether since a healthy balance is how you’ll truly thrive (Source). Nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, purple fruits & veggies are all sources of good cholesterol to add into your diet. Regulation is all about proper moderation & a healthy amount of exercise.
- Improves Hair Health & Growth – Hair growth is all about nutrition. Nutrients like iron, zinc, and biotin are absolutely vital to hair growth. If you’re following a well balanced plant based diet, you’ll be getting enough of these to not only prevent hair loss, but actually promote it’s growth! Plant based diets are usually rich in nuts & seeds which are great sources of vitamin E, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids & selenium. They also provide healthy doses of protein which is helpful in producing the keratin that your hair is made up of. Love a good lentil burger? Well it could help you grow that long mane of yours with the extra biotin it provides. Leafy greens like spinach also increase your iron intake which is crucial to cell growth. Worried about greys? Berries contain antioxidants that help neutralize free radicals. These can lead to premature aging & disease due to blocked cells & oxidative stress (Source).
- Lower Blood Pressure – Your blood pressure is directly affected by the status of your diet & exercise routine. It is also linked to your body weight and those on a plant based diet have been shown to have lower BMIs which is great news for those looking to lower their blood pressure. Because healthy plant based diets contain high amounts of antioxidants & anti-inflammatory foods, they have been shown to lead in a decrease of blood pressure in many studies. This is because of the ripple effect the diet has on your body from increased blood circulation, improved digestion and improved insulin sensitivity. In some studies, patients have even discontinued the use of their antihypertensive medications which drives the point home that a well balanced plant based diet can lead to lower blood pressure and help with regulation (Source).
- Better Nutrient Balance – Since plant based diets provide a wider variety of nutrients by calorie, it’s no surprise that they help with better balance all around. Long gone is the common misconception that vegans don’t get enough nutrients in their diet. When you swap out the steak for vegetables like broccoli, you’re getting a natural source of fiber, protein, iron, potassium, calcium and magnesium as well as vitamin A, C, E, K, various B vitamins and even folic acid. Leafy greens also contain a high amount of vitamin K as well as antioxidants. Complete protein sources can be found in foods like quinoa and even soy products. Staples of a plant based diet include beans, nuts, seeds, and an array of fruits and vegetables. This means that unless you are specifically deficient in something (i.e. iron for anemics), you don’t have to take a multivitamin to get the proper nutrition you need, but it can certainly help just as it would with any type of diet. It’s important to note that a vitamin B12 supplement is essential to a vegan diet as it is derived from animal based products. You can read more about nutrient sources here. I always recommend MyFitnessPal to new vegans and those looking to try plant based…even just for a day to track their progress and nutrient intake. The results speak for themselves (Source).
- Lowers Blood Sugar – Studies have shown that people who follow a vegan diet and watch their saturated fat intake are able to lower blood sugar levels quite efficiently, consequently leading to weight loss. It’s no secret that weight has been closely linked to type 2 diabetes. A plant based diet can actually help prevent insulin resistance and combat storage. This is because many non starchy vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts & seeds are typically low in saturated fat and on the glycemic index which increases your chances of lowering your blood sugar. These foods also help enhance healthy gut biofilms which are the thin protective barriers that form around bacteria in the gut. These make it hard for glucose to penetrate, slowing down the effects of it on the body. If you focus on nutrient-dense foods, your chances of having better regulation are significantly higher (Source).
- Improves Kidney Function – What might surprise you is that a plant based diet can also help prevent & manage kidney disease. Plant proteins have been shown to decrease protein in the urine (proteinuria) which is an early sign of kidney disease.They help slow the decline of glomerular filtration rate (GFR) and kidney blood flow which can be caused as a result of high blood pressure (see how it all comes full circle?). Low GFR is a sign that your kidneys are not working as well as they should and when your blood flow is reduced in them, it can even result in permanent kidney failure. Plant proteins are also shown to reduce kidney cyst growth and improve your lipid (blood fat) profile (Source).
- Helps Lower Your Risk Certain Types of Cancer – Nutrients found in plant based foods including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals & fiber have been shown to reduce the risk of several types of cancer. A vegan diet usually avoids foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients, negating harmful inflammatory properties (including hormones). Plants produce many phytochemicals that can protect cells from damage and have many beneficial effects including the fact that they are often anti-inflammatory and high in fiber. In many studies, thoses who avoided meat & dairy had the lowest rates of cancer of any diet. Those with cancer were found to have higher BMIs and were less active which are significant risk factors to point out. When we talk about a plant based lifestyle, it’s all about making healthier decisions (Source).
- Improves Heart Health – A “heart healthy” diet goes beyond using whole wheat pasta once and a while…Plant based diets benefit heart health because they contain no dietary cholesterol, very little saturated fat, and abundant fiber. In contrast, meat, cheese, and eggs are packed with cholesterol and saturated fat which cause plaque buildup in the arteries consequently increasing your risk of developing heart disease. Eating a nutrient-rich plant based diet also helps you manage blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inflammation which are the key risk factors for heart disease (Source).
- Reduces Arthritis Pain – For those living with rheumatoid arthritis pain, a plant based diet can offer some relief. Studies show that diets high in fat & processed meat are linked to the rise in markers of inflammation. Following a plant based diet can increase our fiber & C-reactive protein levels which can be indicators of inflammation (often detecting diseases like cancer and in your heart too!). In a clinical trial, those who followed a vegan diet for just 4 weeks with moderate-to-severe rheumatoid arthritis saw significant improvements in symptoms including join pain & stiffness, tenderness and swelling (Source).
- Improves Your Mood – The role of diet & mental health is very complex, yet researchers are increasingly starting to linking the two. Increased intake of phytonutrients, which have a protective effect, and fiber, which is responsible for the health of our gut microbiome, are exclusive to plants and have been associated with improved mental health outcomes. Foods like poultry have been linked to inflammation which reaches the brain and can cause feelings of anxiety, stress & depression. This means, if you already have a natural chemical imbalance in your brain, these foods can exacerbate the situation. What’s more is that those who eat more whole foods are at a lower risk of experiencing symptoms of depression versus those who ate mostly processed foods. Omega 3 fatty acids like nuts are said to have improved mental health outcomes. Tryptophan sources like leafy greens & mushrooms help produce serotonin, that feel-good neurotransmitter all of us can’t get enough of. B vitamin sources like beans & lentils are known to boost your mood by increasing neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). Some professionals believe that those are the key to boosting your inner morale as well (Source).
- Helps With Migraines – For those suffering from chronic migraines, you’re in for good news. A recent study showed that following a plant based diet high in fiber, yet low in fat can plan an important role in decreasing migraine pain. Scientists credit this to the elimination of meat and dairy, weight loss, and/or beneficial hormonal changes that occur when following a plant based diet. They also suggest that the high in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action of plant foods plays a role in this relief while eliminating foods such as meat & dairy may also help. If you’re noticing a trend here, it’s that anti-inflammatory foods are the key to overall good health (Source).
- Reduces Risk of Foodborne Illnesses & Ingesting Toxins – While vegans aren’t completely immune to food poisoning, their risk factors are lower because of the elimination of meat, fish & dairy. Chicken is the leading cause due to listeria which can be fatal. The growth of factory farming and the drive for cheap meat are major contributing factors. The World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted that the disposal of manure from large-scale animal/poultry production facilities is a growing food safety problem in many parts of the world. The process in which it is produced through mechanical evisceration (removal of internal organs) can result in rupturing digestive tracts and spill fecal matter onto the skin of the animal. That’s bad news for those that like to eat chicken skin… Pathogens like campylobacter, norovirus, salmonella, E. coli are also present in many higher amounts than produce (Source).
- Helps You Build More Lean Muscle – One of the benefits of eating a plant based diet is that, by volume, foods typically contain fewer calories than animal-based foods, allowing us to eat more total food and feel fuller, without necessarily gaining more body fat which is great news for those who want a toned look without the gains. For those who have pure muscle & strength goals in mind, they simply need to focus on foods that have a higher caloric density. Weightlifters can look to grains, beans, tofu, tempeh (or other alternatives), nuts & nut butters, seeds, avocados, and dried fruit to up their caloric intake while consuming healthy proteins & fats. There are also plenty of plant based meats, protein powders & energy bars to help you hit your caloric surplus if you’re not too concerned about eating mainly whole foods. It doesn’t hurt to mix it up once in a while, especially if you’re on the go. The fact that based diets focus on a variety of nutrients is also helpful for long-lasting effects instead of a diet that simply focuses on protein at the expense of other important fats or carbohydrates needed to keep your body functioning properly. A new era of bodybuilders is emerging with world-record holders like strongman Patrick Baboumian & American record-holder Olympic weightlifter Kendrick Farris (and defensive line of the Tennessee Titans!) (Source).
- Increases Your Chances of Living Longer – Research on vegans & vegetarians in the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, and Japan suggests that they have a 9% lower risk of death from all causes compared to omnivores. Other studies put that number between 12-15%. This is because vegans tend to live longer since they typically lead healthier lifestyles compared to their meat & dairy consuming counterparts. It also puts them at a lower risk of premature death all around because of their decreased risk of various diseases & disorders including high cholesterol, obesity, IBD, cancer and diabetes (Source).
- Helps You Recover Faster – Studies show that adhering to a plant based diet plays a key role in many aspects of training and performance, especially when it comes to cardiovascular health and recovery time. This is because of the many antioxidants found in the diet that help reduce inflammation and plant based foods are typically higher in carbohydrates… helping prevent you from hitting that dreaded wall. This is crucial to the body, especially when you’re constantly putting it under the stress of running long distances or even powerlifting. A tough workout session can lead to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and stiffness in your tendons and ligaments. Diets rich in nitric oxide (beets and other plant based foods) help improve blood flow which helps you recover faster (Source).
- Reduces Risk of Cognitive Impairment – Do you personally suffer from memory loss or know someone who does? Compelling research has linked plant based diets to slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s and getting a little extra dose of fruits and vegetables per day (about 1/2 cup) has led to a 13% reduction in the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. They sum it up to fruits and vegetables having high amounts of polyphenols. These may help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and may even help reverse cognitive decline according to one review (Source).
My Personal Experience of Plant Based Living
This blog shares many of my own personal experiences and opinions through living as a vegan the past 2.5 years. In the past, I had struggled with my weight, chronic migraines, GI regulation, mental health & constant fatigue. I won’t say that going vegan is the end-all-be-all solution for your problems, but it can certainly help a great deal. It’s been a journey for me and I’ve had my own pitfalls with it, but through research, trial and error I’ve found a way to make it work for my lifestyle. I’m vegan for ethical reasons first and foremost, but being healthy is critical to me because I want to set a good example for my future children and live long enough to be there for their most important moments.
Since going vegan, I’ve lost 35 lbs of stubborn weight I had a difficult time keeping off no matter what type of exercise and diet routine I had tried. I finally got the results I wanted last year when I adapted a whole foods plant based diet and started doing light yoga instead of intense cardio & weightlifting. Now, I don’t worry about counting calories, but macronutrients and essential vitamins to ensure I’m getting the right kind of nutrition…especially during pregnancy! My mental health significantly improved after incorporating more foods linked to higher levels of serotonin production and my skin became smoother after focusing on foods with anti-inflammatory properties.
My hair has continued to grow at a steady pace during this time, although I will say I didn’t really start feeling like rapunzel until I became pregnant and my nutrition caused it to go wild! I truly feel like I have more energy and focus than ever before and I’m able to get a lot more done throughout the day without feeling so sluggish after meals. I used to battle chronic migraines on the daily which were partially related to my diet and ongoing stress in my life at the time. After moving to a plant based diet and finally eliminating the trigger points that seemed to cause the most stress, I haven’t had nearly as many migraines and have found them only returning during my first trimester of pregnancy when I wasn’t drinking enough water. The plant based lifestyle has benefitted me all around and I hope to share that with others because we all deserve to live healthier, longer lives without suffering.
Did any of these benefits listed surprise you at all…or do you have one of your own to share? Leave me a note in the comments section below.
As always, thanks for your love & support.
‘Til next time!
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