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20 Years of Research Reveals Health Benefits of Plant-Based Diet

A recent large-scale review published in PLOS ONE analysed nearly 50 studies conducted between 2000 and 2023. These findings reinforce the value of plant-based eating patterns in promoting health and longevity.

With the arrival of summer, those embracing plant-based diets can feel even more assured in their choice. Whether you nurture your own garden, participate in a community garden, or simply purchase fruits and vegetables for your household, the long-term health benefits are undeniable.

A wealth of research points out the positive impact of plant-based diets, linking them to reduced risks of heart disease, cancer, and overall mortality.

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20 Years of Research Reveals Health Benefits of Plant-Based Diet

Lower Risk of Chronic Diseases

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vegetarian and vegan diets are suitable and healthy at all life stages, from pregnancy to older adulthood. Researchers continue to investigate how plant-based diets mitigate disease risk, with some evidence suggesting a role in preventing obesity—a known risk factor for heart disease and certain cancers.

Matthew Landry, an assistant professor of population health and disease prevention at the University of California, was interviewed by the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper and he noted that plant-based diets can benefit health independently of weight changes. He states, “Even when weight is maintained or doesn’t change, we still see reductions in some of these other clinical health outcomes, especially when it relates to cardiovascular disease.”

One potential explanation is that fruits and vegetables are rich in anti-inflammatory nutrients and antioxidants, which can reduce arterial plaque buildup, thereby improving cardiovascular health.

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Supporting Evidence from Research

The studies reviewed encompassed both vegetarian and vegan diets, which eliminate all animal-derived foods, including dairy. The consensus was clear: these eating patterns are linked to a lower risk of cancer and ischemic heart disease (heart problems caused by narrowed arteries). Specifically, plant-based diets appeared to reduce the risk of prostate cancer and gastrointestinal cancers like colon cancer. Moreover, vegetarian diets were associated with a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Plant-based diets also helped lower risk factors for heart disease and cancer, such as high body weight, inflammation, and LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Landry emphasises, “This research shows, in general, that a plant-based diet can be beneficial, and taking small steps in that direction can make a difference.” He adds, “Even reducing a day or two per week of animal-based consumption can have benefits over time.”

Flexitarian Approach

While the study focused on vegetarian and vegan diets, some experts suggest a more flexible approach. Faith Krisht, a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist not involved in the study, advocates for a flexitarian diet, which primarily includes plant-based proteins but occasionally incorporates animal-based proteins. This approach ensures a balanced intake of all essential nutrients.

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Nutritional Adequacy and Considerations

It is crucial to note that not all plant-based diets are created equal – a vegetarian diet based on refined starches and sugars can be detrimental. Instead, the focus should be on whole foods, including whole grains, beans, lentils, vegetables, fruits, seeds, and nuts, along with minimally processed animal proteins if included. This strategy ensures a diet rich in healthy fibre and antioxidants while avoiding added sugars, which can elevate chronic disease risk.

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Practical Tips for a Healthy Plant-Based Diet

  1. Diversify Your Diet: Incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. This diversity ensures you receive a wide range of nutrients.
  2. Focus on Whole Foods: Prioritise minimally processed foods to maximise nutritional benefits and avoid added sugars and unhealthy fats.
  3. Supplement Wisely: Consider taking a vitamin B12 supplement, especially if you follow a strict vegan diet, to prevent deficiencies.
  4. Balance Your Meals: Ensure each meal includes a source of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates to maintain energy levels and support overall health.
  5. Stay Hydrated: Adequate water intake is essential for optimal health and helps support digestion and nutrient absorption.

How to Incorporate More Plant-Based Foods into Your Diet

Transitioning to a plant-based diet can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Start Slowly: Introduce plant-based meals gradually, perhaps starting with one meatless day per week.
  • Experiment with New Recipes: Explore different cuisines and try new recipes to keep your meals exciting and varied.
  • Use Plant-Based Substitutes: Replace animal products with plant-based alternatives, such as almond milk instead of dairy milk or chickpeas instead of chicken in salads.
  • Focus on Nutrient-Dense Foods: Prioritise vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds to ensure you get all essential nutrients.
  • Plan Ahead: Prepare meals and snacks in advance to make it easier to stick to a plant-based diet, especially when you’re busy.

Related: The Incredible Benefits of Drinking Celery Juice for 7 Days Straight

In conclusion, a comprehensive review of nearly 50 studies over 23 years affirms the significant health benefits of plant-based diets, including reduced risks of cancer and heart disease. Whether you choose a vegetarian, vegan, or flexitarian approach, incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet can lead to substantial health improvements.

This research shows, in general, that a plant-based diet can be beneficial, and taking small steps in that direction can make a difference.

By prioritising whole foods and maintaining a balanced diet, you can enjoy the numerous health benefits of plant-based eating while reducing your risk of chronic diseases. So, as summer approaches, consider embracing a plant-based diet to support your long-term health and well-being.

Read Also: 7 Myths About Plant-Based Diets (And Why They’re Wrong)

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