Adopting a plant-based diet has multiple benefits


Whole-food, plant-based diets emphasise whole or minimally-processed foods that originate from plants alone. — Filepic

Science has proven that changing your nutrition is one of the most effective ways to live longer, reduce your risk of sickness and help the environment.

And moving to a plant-based diet is one of the best ways to improve your health, boost your energy levels and prevent chronic diseases.

After making the switch, many people report greater fitness results, more energy, reduced inflammation and better health outcomes.

Whole-food, plant-based diets are based on the following principles:

  • Plant-based food is food that comes from plants and is free of meat, milk, eggs or honey.
  • Natural foods are called “whole foods”, which means that the ingredients are whole, unrefined, or only minimally refined.

Whole-food, plant-based diets and vegan diets overlap, but there are also some key differences.

While vegan diets may have highly processed imitation meats and cheeses, whole-food vegetarian diets omit these products in favour of whole or minimally-processed, close-to-nature foods that can help meet your nutritional requirements.

Among the many foods you can eat are fruits, vegetables, tubers, legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, wholegrain flours and breads, and plant-based milks.

The benefits of moving to plant-based nutrition include:

> Easier weight management

Those who consume a plant-based diet are typically leaner than those who don’t, and it is easy to lose weight and keep it off on this diet without counting calories.

According to a 2020 review, participants assigned to plant-based diets lost weight in 19 intervention studies that evaluated diets over a specified period of time.

Whole-plant foods like vegetables are low in calories, which is why you can eat in bigger quantities without exceeding your calorie needs.

By consuming plant foods that are low in calories, you can eat until you’re satisfied – no calorie counting or portion control required.

> Lower inflammation

Your body may be prone to inflammation if you eat a lot of meat, cheese and highly-processed foods.

Short-term inflammation (such as after an injury) is normal and necessary, but long-term inflammation is not.

Among other conditions, chronic inflammation contributes to diabetes, strokes and arteriosclerosis.

> Disease prevention

Several chronic diseases can be prevented, halted, or in some cases, reversed by consuming whole foods.

Especially compelling evidence has emerged in the area of heart disease and diabetes, but research has also linked plant-based diets to reduced rates of arthritis, improved liver function and healthier kidneys.

> The right amount of protein

Contrary to popular belief, extra protein from meat does not make us stronger or leaner.

Excess animal protein becomes waste or is stored as fat that causes heart disease, inflammation, cancer, diabetes and weight gain.

On the other hand, whole-plant protein can protect us from those chronic diseases.

Plant-based diets don’t require tracking protein intake or using protein supplements; if you meet your daily calorie requirements, you will get plenty of protein.

> Healthier gut

Microbiome is the collective term for the trillions of microorganisms living in our bodies, particularly in the gut.

The importance of microorganisms for our overall health is becoming increasingly apparent.

Not only do they help us digest our food, they also produce nutrients, turn genes on and off, train our immune systems and keep chronic diseases at bay.

Diets that are too focused on meat, dairy and eggs may promote the growth of a substance that converts into a toxic product known as trimethylamineoxide (TMAO).

This substance promotes the formation of cholesterol plaques in our blood vessels.

On the other hand, plant foods can help us cultivate a healthier intestinal microbiome.

> Wallet-friendly meals

In addition to being healthy and sustainable, whole-plant foods are also some of the cheapest.

A plant-based diet can reduce grocery bills significantly, letting you save up for a rainy day.

What’s even better is that you can stock up on brown rice, whole wheat noodles and a variety of vegetables for a budget amount, and still cook nutritious meals for the whole family.

> A smaller environmental footprint

Animal farming is highly damaging to the planet, as it is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

For example, about 2,000 gallons (9.1 kilolitres) of water are needed to produce just one pound (0.45 kilogrammes) of beef in the United States.

This makes it a leading contributor to land use and deforestation.

Some have also estimated that the oceans may be depleted of fish by 2048.

In addition, our existing food system is highly skewed towards meat and dairy production, which means that a lot of global crops are grown for feeding livestock, not people.

Those crops could be used for poor and hungry populations.

Therefore, we can lead a more compassionate life by eating a plant-based diet.

Good health is not only about what we eat.

It’s also about our consciousness – how our choices affect the planet and the people and animals in it.

Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, and a functional medicine practitioner. For further information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only, and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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