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The Benefits of Eating a Plant-Based Diet
This article was reviewed by Heather Noble, Registered Dietitian and owner of Heather Noble Nutrition.
Plant-based diets are gaining popularity as more and more people are discovering the many benefits they offer. Plant-based diets are diets that emphasize whole, plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, while minimizing or excluding animal products like meat, dairy, and eggs. There are many benefits to following a plant-based diet however, diets consisting entirely of plant-based foods may not be conducive or realistic for everyone. These benefits can be achieved by simply increasing plant-based foods in your diet!
Here are some of the benefits of following a plant-based diet:
Reduced risk of chronic diseases – Numerous studies have shown that plant-based diets can improve overall health and reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. This is because plant-based diets tend to be high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants while being low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and processed foods.
Better weight management – Plant-based diets tend to be less energy-dense and higher in fiber, which can help support maintaining a healthy weight. In fact, studies have shown that plant-based diets are linked to lower rates of obesity, making them a great option for those looking to improve their overall health and wellness.
Improved digestion – Plant-based foods are rich in fiber, which helps improve digestion, promotes regular bowel movements, and prevents constipation.
Increased energy – Choosing more complex carbohydrates (brown rice, quinoa, whole grain bread, etc.) when following a plant-based diet and less refined carbohydrates (added sugars, white bread, white rice, etc.) helps to provide more consistent energy levels throughout the day and even blood sugars.
Improved mental health – Research has shown that plant-based diets may be associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety. Researchers believe this may be due to consuming a high level of antioxidants and phytochemicals- found in many plant foods such as apples, kale, berries, grapes, onions, and green tea.
Eating a plant-based diet not only has numerous health benefits, but it can also have a positive impact on the environment. Plant-based foods typically require fewer resources to produce, such as water and land and generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to animal-based foods. This makes reducing the consumption of animal products an effective way to reduce the environmental impact of food production and support a more sustainable food system. In fact, the production of animal products is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. By choosing to eat a plant-based diet, you can help reduce your environmental impact and contribute to a healthier planet.
Plant-based diets can be more cost-effective than diets that include a lot of meat and other animal products. Whole plant foods such as grains, legumes, and vegetables tend to be less expensive than meat and dairy products. Additionally, plant-based diets can help reduce healthcare costs in the long term by reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
Many people adopt a plant-based diet for ethical reasons, such as concerns about animal welfare or the environmental impact of animal agriculture. By choosing to eat a plant-based diet, you can reduce the demand for animal products and support more ethical and sustainable food production practices.
Eating a plant-based diet has numerous benefits, including improved mental health, reduced environmental impact, cost-effectiveness, and ethical considerations. Overall, it’s a great way to improve your health, protect the planet, and make more mindful food choices.
Getting Started with a Plant-Based Diet
If you’re interested in adopting a plant-based diet, here are a few tips to help you get started:
Incorporate More Plant-Based Foods Into Your Meals
One of the easiest ways to transition to a plant-based diet is to start incorporating more plant-based foods into your meals. This can be as simple as adding more fruits and vegetables to your plate or swapping out meat for a plant-based protein source like beans and lentils. You can also try making plant-based versions of your favorite meals, like tacos with black beans instead of ground beef or a veggie burger instead of a beef burger.
Experiment With Plant-Based Protein Sources
Protein is an important nutrient, but it doesn’t have to come from animal sources. There are many plant-based protein sources that can be incorporated into your diet, such as tofu, tempeh, seitan, lentils, chickpeas, and texturized vegan protein. These foods are also often rich in other important nutrients like fiber, iron, and calcium. If you are following a strict vegan or vegetarian diet, it is important to include a greater amount and wide variety of plant-based proteins in order to meet your protein needs as well as consume all essential amino acids.
Try Plant-Based Milk Alternatives
Dairy milk can be easily replaced with plant-based milk alternatives like almond, soy, or oat milk. These milk alternatives are often fortified with important nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, and can be used in cooking and baking just like dairy milk. Note: Soy milk is the only plant-based milk alternative that has 9g protein/cup which is comparable to regular cow’s milk, whereas all other plant-based milks are low in protein (1-2g/cup).
Find Plant-Based Recipes and Meal Ideas
There are many resources available for finding plant-based recipes and meal ideas. Look for cookbooks, blogs, and social media accounts that focus on plant-based eating. You can also search for plant-based versions of your favorite meals or ingredients, like “vegan lasagna” or “tofu stir-fry”.
Tips to help you eat more fruits and vegetables:
- Have a large container prepared of washed and cut veggies available for snacking.
- Include fruit with snacks throughout the day.
- Start your meal with a salad or vegetable soup as an appetizer.
- Aim to fill half your plate at lunch and dinner with vegetables.
- Meal prep vegetables by roasting a large batch of a variety of vegetables to include at lunches or dinners for the next few days.
- Puree vegetables, beans, or lentils, into pasta sauce or soups for picky eaters.
- Offer fruit after dinner for something sweet.
- Add kale, spinach, and a variety of fruit to smoothies.
Note: It may be challenging for those following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet to consume adequate amounts of certain nutrients in their diet, including vitamin B12 and iron. Vitamin B12 is naturally found only in animal foods such as poultry, eggs, milk, yogurt, and fish. Iron is found in both animal (called ‘heme iron’) and plant foods (called ‘non-heme iron’). Plant-based sources include beans, lentils, peas, some fruits, and vegetables. Non-heme iron is less efficiently absorbed by the body (2-20%) than heme iron (15-35%). It is recommended that you work with a Registered Dietitian to ensure you are getting enough Vitamin B12 and Iron through fortified & plant-based foods and/or a supplement if necessary.
Consider Working with a Registered Dietitian
If you’re new to plant-based eating, it can be helpful to work with a Registered Dietitian to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs. A Dietitian can help you create a well-rounded meal plan, answer your nutrition questions, and provide guidance on meeting your individual nutrient needs. To easily search, compare and book an appointment with a dietitian near you, check out this page.
In conclusion, transitioning to a plant-based diet can be a gradual process that offers numerous benefits for your health, the environment, and your wallet. Starting with small changes, like incorporating more plant-based foods into your meals, can make the transition easier and more sustainable. With the right resources and support, adopting a plant-based diet can be a healthy and enjoyable lifestyle choice that not only benefits you, but also supports a more sustainable and ethical food system.
About Heather Noble
Heather Noble is a Registered Dietitian and the owner of Heather Noble Nutrition- a virtual private practice. She specializes in sports nutrition and eating disorders/disordered eating. Heather has two undergraduate degrees- a Bachelor of Kinesiology and Bachelor of Foods and Science, in addition to completing the International Olympic Committee Diploma in Sports Nutrition. Heather works with her clients to create long-term, sustainable behaviour changes in order to lead a happier, healthier life, and successful athletic career. Having an athletic background herself as an elite light-weight and open-weight rower, as well as being a current Ironman triathlete, she values tremendously the impact nutrition can have on performance, injury prevention, day-to-day training, energy levels, and overall health. Heather is also part of a team of clinicians at EatWell Health Centre, an eating disorder treatment center in Toronto, and is passionate about helping individuals recover from their eating disorders and heal their relationship with food and body image.
To easily search, compare and book an appointment with a dietitian or nutritionist near you, visit medimap.ca.