How a Plant-Based Diet can Help Improve your Health - Change My Eating Habits

How a Plant-Based Diet can Help Improve your Health

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It’s taught from when you are young that you need to eat your fruits and vegetables. But it isn’t as common to teach children or people in general the benefits of cutting meat and other such food products out of their diet. There is a significant impact on a person’s body from switching to this diet, most of which are positive!

There are several ways that switching to a diet based only on natural plant foods, whole foods, like kale, lettuce, and beans, will greatly improve your health and even lower your risk of gaining certain diseases or health conditions. Of course, some of these do depend on your genetics, but it will greatly reduce these problems.

Can Help Prevent Obesity

This may be a bit more obvious than some of the other conditions listed below. Of course, as with any, not eating in excess is really the best way to ensure you don’t become obese. Eating smaller meal portions or very small meals several times are the best way to prevent obesity.

But a plant-based diet was found by several researchers to be remarkably effective for weight loss. A nutritional review of 87 published studies done by Susan E. Berkow and Neal Barnard found that weight loss in vegetarians wasn’t dependent on exercise and that they lost about 1 pound per week. They also stated that a vegan diet caused more calories to be burned after meals because the food is not being stored as fat.1

Farmer and others suggested within their study that vegetarians were typically slimmer than those who ate meat. They also found that many vegetarians consumed more important nutrients and vitamins, including magnesium, iron, and potassium. They concluded that these nutrient dense diets are best for those looking to manage their weight without sacrificing important vitamins and minerals.2

Can Help Decrease Risks of Heart Disease

Many heart diseases are caused, at least in part, by the amount of cholesterol within your system. Cholesterol tends to increase the more fats you consume. Being on a diet based primarily of plants helps reduce or even eliminate your cholesterol levels due to how low-fat these diets typically are.

There was a Lyon Diet Heart Study done by de Lorgeril and others that was a randomized and secondary prevention trial. It was found a little over 2 years into the study at the intervention group experienced a 73% decrease in any coronary events. This intervention group was eating a Mediterranean-style diet where they ate more plant foods, vegetables, fruits, and fish than meat.3

A few studies have even proven that a low-fat, high-fiber, or vegetarian or vegan diet combined with stress reduction techniques, exercise, and no smoking or drug use could reverse a heart condition known as atherosclerosis. This is the hardening of the arteries. Diets that included lean meat, dairy, or chicken are typically much less effective and only slow the process of this disease.4,5

Can Help Lower Blood Pressure

Lowering blood pressure can be difficult for many to do, but those who are on vegetarian diets seem to have this happen to them naturally. Even early into the 1900s, nutritionists noticed that vegetarians almost always had a lower blood pressure than those who did eat meat.6 Around the time they noticed vegetarians typically had lower blood pressure. They discovered that vegetarian diets could reduce a person’s blood pressure by a significant amount within just two weeks.7

There isn’t an exact answer as to why vegetarian diets help so much in reducing one’s blood pressure, but nutritionists believe it is probably because vegetarian diets cut out meat, dairy products and added facts, which in turn reduces the blood’s “thickness” and blood pressure. Plant products are also much lower in fat and sodium with no cholesterol at all in them.8

Can Help Lower Mortality Rates

Several studies have been done to observe the mortality rates of those who do eat meat vs. those who do not eat meat. One was done by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to see the effect of these plant-based diets on total mortality in adults, among other things. They discovered in their studies that these types of diets often came with a lowered risk of cardiovascular diseases and mortality when compared with other diets that weren’t plant based.9

One study done by Singh, Sabaté, and Fraser came to the conclusion that this decreased mortality was due to a reduced consumption of red meat, like beef or pork. Due to the amount of fats and cholesterol within red meats, it has been commonly advised to reduce your consumption of such meat. This study only solidifies this idea.10

Can Help Prevent Cancer

While cancer can emerge due to your genetics and the type of environment you live in, some studies have found that you can actually reduce your risk of getting some cancers by going on a vegetarian diet. These include cancer in your colon, breasts, ovaries, or prostate.

Several large studies were performed in England and Germany that have shown how vegetarians are 40% less likely to develop cancer when compared to those who do eat meat regularly.11,12 There was also a study done that showed that breast cancer rates were incredibly reduced in nations where more people followed plant-based diets, such as in China.13

This is because vegetarians get large amounts of fiber and vitamins, as well as phytochemicals that help prevent cancer, on a daily basis. It was also found that they typically have a higher level of specialized white blood cells that target cancer cells.14

Can Help with Asthma

This one isn’t as commonly studied as the other diseases and conditions included within this article, but there was a Swedish study done in 1985 that helped prove this point. In this study, individuals with asthma went on a vegan diet for an entire year and have a decrease in their need for their medicine as well as a decrease in how often and how severe their asthma attacks were.15

As we can see from previous studies, plant-based diets are remarkable at improving your cardiovascular health. In this way, we can understand a little better how engaging in a vegan or plant-based diet of any sort would help improve one’s asthma.

Can Help Reduce and Prevent Diabetes

There have been many studies done on this particular topic due to its increase in recent years. Diabetes can also have such a large impact in one’s life that there is now more information available on it.

In 2008, Vang and others found that vegetarians were 74% less likely than their meat-eating counterparts to develop diabetes over a 17-year time period.16 This is a significant drop in the number of those who are vegetarian and diabetic when you think of how many millions of people that number entails.

A few studies believe this is due to having a diet that is low in fat and high in fibers and complex carbohydrates, which allows insulin to work more effectively than it normally would. Being on a vegetarian diet won’t eliminate the need for those with Type 1 diabetes, where they are insulin dependent, but it will often allow them to use less insulin.17,18

A Final Word

Engaging in a plant-based diet, whether you become a vegetarian or vegan, can significantly increase how well your health currently is or what type of health risks you can have in the future.

It may be in your best interest to engage in a plant-based diet if you are genetically already at risk for such diseases or conditions, or if you currently already have them.

References:

1: Berkow SE, Barnard N. Vegetarian diets and weight status. Nutr Rev. 2006 Apr;64(4):175–88. DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2006.tb00200.x

2: Farmer B, Larson BT, Fulgoni VL, 3rd, Rainville AJ, Liepa GU. A vegetarian dietary pattern as a nutrient-dense approach to weight management: an analysis of the national health and nutrition examination survey 1999–2004. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011 Jun;111(6):819–27. DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2011.03.012

3: de Lorgeril M, Salen P, Martin JL, Monjaud I, Delaye J, Mamelle N. Mediterranean diet, traditional risk factors, and the rate of cardiovascular complications after myocardial infarction: final report of the Lyon Diet Heart Study. Circulation. 1999 Feb;99(6):779–85. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1161/01.CIR.99.6.779

4: Ornish D, Brown SE, Scherwitz LW. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? Lancet. 1990;336:129-133.

5: Esselstyn CB Jr, Ellis SG, Medendorp SV, Crowe TD. A strategy to arrest and reverse coronary artery disease: a 5-year longitudinal study of a single physician’s practice. J Fam Pract. 1995;41:560-568.

6:  Salie F. Influence of vegetarian food on blood pressure. Med Klin. 1930;26:929-931.

7:  Donaldson AN. The relation of protein foods to hypertension. Calif West Med. 1926;24:328-331.

8: Ernst E, Pietsch L, Matrai A, Eisenberg J. Blood rheology in vegetarians. Br J Nutr. 1986;56:555-560.

9: Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the dietary guidelines for Americans, 2010: to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Washington, DC: Agriculture Research Service, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Health and Human Services; 2010. May,

10: Singh PN, Sabaté J, Fraser GE. Does low meat consumption increase life expectancy in humans? Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Sep;78(3 Suppl):526S–532S. [PubMed]

11: .Thorogood M, Mann J, Appleby P, McPherson K. Risk of death from cancer and ischaemic heart disease in meat and non-meat eaters. Br Med J. 1994;308:1667-1670.

12: Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R, Eilber U. Mortality patterns of German vegetarians after 11 years of follow-up. Epidemiology. 1992;3:395-401.

13: Campbell, TC, Chen J. Diet and chronic degenerative diseases: Perspectives from China. Am J Clin Nutr. 1994;59:1153S–1161S.

14:  Malter M, Schriever G, Eilber U. Natural killer cells, vitamins, and other blood components of vegetarian and omnivorous men. Nutr Cancer. 1989;12:271-278.

15:  Lindahl O, Lindwall L, Spangberg A, Stenram A, Ockerman PA. Vegan regimen with reduced medication in the treatment of bronchial asthma. J Asthma. 1985;22:45-55.

16: Vang A, Singh PN, Lee JW, Haddad EH, Brinegar CH. Meats, processed meats, obesity, weight gain and occurrence of diabetes among adults: findings from Adventist Health Studies. Ann Nutr Metab. 2008;52(2):96-104. DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1159/000121365.

17: Scott FW. Cow milk and insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus: is there a relationship? Am J Clin Nutr. 1990;51:489-491.

18: Karjalainen J, Martin JM, Knip M, et al. A bovine albumin peptide as a possible trigger of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. N Engl J Med. 1992;327:302-307.

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