A diet without meat? Why would a person make that choice? You have probably heard of the diet terms: vegan, vegetarian and plant-based. Today we'll take a look at what these diets entail and some of their benefits. Plant-based eating is defined as a diet that focuses on intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds while limiting or avoiding certain animal products like red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. Vegetarian diets eliminate some animal products, depending on the person's personal beliefs and preferences. There are different types of vegetarian diets like pescatarians, who eat fish but avoid all other animal products. Veganism is slightly different because vegan diets eliminate all animal products.
Though these diets vary in the foods they include, they are similar in that they can all be beneficial for our health and the wellness of our planet. Here are four of the main benefits of more plant-based diets:
Reduces risk of disease. It is well known that fruits and vegetables have health-boosting effects, so it may not be a surprise that diets that emphasize intake of these foods help to reduce our risk for certain illness and disease. For instance, vegetarian diets have been shown to decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes and noted to increase longevity. Additionally, plant-based diets, like the Mediterranean diet, have shown in both large population studies and randomized clinical trials to reduce the risk of heart disease, depression, certain types of cancers, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and in senior adults, decrease risk of frailty and improve mental and physical functioning.
Rich in fiber and phytonutrients. Plant-based diets offer all the necessary nutrients (i.e., protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals) for optimal health and are often higher in fiber and phytonutrients. Our bodies need fiber to help with waste removal and maintain a healthy gut. Fiber also plays an important role in heart health, helping to decrease "bad" LDL cholesterol. Phytonutrients are color-containing components in foods that possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Animal cruelty-free. Making the choice to go plant-based or vegan decreases the great need for livestock and factory farms. Animals are often crowded together in confined spaces or kept in cages in an effort to maximize production and minimize costs. Not only are these operations cruel, but they can be extremely unsanitary if not properly maintained. This results in the excessive use of antibiotics and resistant bacteria.
Positive environmental impact. Not only do plant-based diets benefit the human body, but they benefit our planet. Plant-based eating helps to reduce energy consumption because it is more energy efficient to harvest plant products than animal-products. Meat was not intended to be consumed in the large quantities as it simply is not environmentally sustainable. Animal-based protein requires about eight times more fossil-fuel energy than it does to produce plant-based protein. This is because caring for livestock requires fossil fuel for feed production, breeding, and other farm operations. Thus, choosing to implement a plant-based or vegan diet helps reduce air pollution and in turn helps to keep animal habitats safe, preserves different species of animals being threatened, protects the lands and oceans, and overall reduces our use of our planet’s resources. There is no planet-B, so it is important to do all we can to incorporate more sustainable practices.
Making a choice to go plant-based helps improve our health and reduce our carbon footprint in a way no other personal action can. The latest science is overwhelmingly supportive of this choice for both our bodies and the planet. We can make a difference and the best way to help is starting with our plate. Each time you buy a product at the store you vote for what you want to see more of; help to vote for the benefits of saving the only world we have!
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Written by: Jonathan Bahnsen, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern