Updated: Nov 17
Benefits of a plant-based diet
Many chronic diseases can be controlled, reduced, or even reversed by adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet! These are some pretty big claims, but they’re backed by excellent scientific evidence collected from numerous studies on the subject.
The China Study– a book that I mentioned in my previous plant-based blog, explores the link between animal products and chronic illness and is noted to be the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever–showcases impressive findings regarding the positive effects a plant-based diet has on heart-related problems, cancer, diabetes, and brain function.
A plant-based diet is the ONLY diet proven to prevent and even reverse heart disease! While there are varying degrees of plant-based diets (vegan vs. vegetarian) studies have shown that even those who follow a vegetarian diet with no animal products except for dairy and/or eggs are at lower risk for coronary heart disease and usually have lower cholesterol than meat-eaters.
It’s true that some people may be genetically predisposed to cancer, but diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors also contribute to the likelihood of developing cancer. Luckily, the latter three are all within your control. Research has shown that plant-based diets positively affect survival for individuals with breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and skin cancer (melanoma).
Individuals that eat a vegetarian diet are typically at a lower risk for developing gastrointestinal and colorectal cancers too. The American Cancer Society even recommends that cancer survivors follow plant-based diets that are high in fruits, vegetables, and unrefined grains and low in red and processed meats, refined grains, and sugars.
The typical recommended diabetic diet limits carbohydrates and caloric intake, but a study conducted by the PCRM proved that a plant-based diet is actually three times more effective to control your body’s blood sugar, largely due to the low fat intake. I often have conversations with my clients about different kinds of fats and which ones are healthy for their unique body.
Other research has yielded results that show vegans and vegetarians have a ~34-50% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than their animal product consuming counterparts.
Mental health and brain cognition
The key ingredient here is antioxidants, higher levels of which have been linked to reduced risk of depression, lower suicide rates, and slowed progression of Alzheimer’s. A comparative analysis which included results of nine different studies concluded that those who ate more fruits and vegetables had 20% less risk of developing cognitive impairment or dementia.
Higher levels of antioxidants in the blood from plant sources have been associated with a significantly lower risk of depression and lower suicide rates. In both cross-sectional and interventional studies, vegetarians showed fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and mood disturbance than omnivores.
In this study, plant-based diets were found to be protective against cancers of the digestive system, with no significant differences between different types of cancer.
All plant-based diets are not created equal
These results are astounding and truly show the power behind functional nutrition and whole health solutions. But we have to remember that not all plant-based diets are created equal! There is such a thing as “junk food vegetarians”—vegetarians who eat pizza, processed foods and Doritos—and that’s not healthy either.
Avoid sugary drinks, fruit juices, refined grains, processed/packaged food like substances, and processed dairy when beginning a plant-based diet and focus on consuming nutrient dense vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Try eating seasonally if you’re unsure of where to start on your plant-based journey!
Eating with the seasons is the best way to get the most nutrient-dense, flavorful fruits and veggies. Produce harvested at its peak has the highest concentration of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, so the fresher, the better. And thanks to their abundance, seasonal produce is typically more affordable too!
Regional produce yields vary, so check with your local farmer or grocer, but here’s what’s in season here in the Northeast:
Note: If you can’t access seasonal produce, frozen fruits and vegetables are a better alternative than canned, as they require less processing and retain far more nutrients.
Fruits: Apples, blueberries, cranberries, grapes, ground cherries, nectarines, plums, strawberries
Vegetables: Beets, bok choy, carrots, cauliflower, celery root, chard, chili peppers, collard greens, corn, eggplant, garlic, green beans, kale, leeks, mushrooms, peas, pumpkins, potatoes radishes, spinach
Herbs: Basil, chives, cilantro, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme
Vegetables: Horseradish, morels, mushrooms, ramps, parsnips, shallots, sprouts
Herbs: Chives, mint, nettles
Fruits: Cranberries, rhubarb (see also veg)
Vegetables: Asparagus, beets, collard greens, fava beans, garlic scapes, fiddleheads, morels, mushrooms, mustard greens, parsnips, pea shoots, ramps, sprouts, watercress
Herbs: Chives, cilantro, green onions, mint, nettles, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
Fruits: Blueberries, cherries, currants, gooseberries, rhubarb (see also veg), strawberries,
Vegetables: Arugula, beets, black-eyed peas, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, chili peppers, collard greens, cucumbers, fava beans, green beans, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mushrooms, mustard greens, purslane, radishes, shallots, shell beans, snap peas, snow peas, sorrel, spinach, sprouts, watercress
Herbs: Chives, cilantro, green onions, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme
Working with a functional health and nutrition coach allows you to get to the root of your health problems.
Turn issues like allergies, food intolerance, and poor gut health into increased focus, improved energy levels, and consistent sleep patterns by identifying the root causes instead of simply treating the symptoms.
As a Functional Medicine Health Coach, this is what I do. If you want to find sustainable solutions that are unique to your concerns, I can help you create and maintain a healthier, more balanced lifestyle. You just have to take the first step!
This communication may contain general nutrition and lifestyle advice. I am not a licensed physician. My advice is not intended, and you should not use it to attempt to diagnose, prevent or treat diseases, ailments, pain or other medical conditions. Please consult your personal licensed physician to seek advice about diagnosing, preventing or treating specific ailments.