Scientifically Proven Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet. It Lowers Cancer Risk
When someone asks you "Why are you eating plant-based?" the answer is fairly simple: It's better for my health, it's better for the environment and it's better for farmed animals. Going mostly or fully plant-based (even if you don't want to go all the way vegan) can significantly reduce your risk of all major lifestyle diseases. Here are 10 scientifically proven benefits of switching to a plant-based diet, for the sake of your health and wellbeing.
Studies have found that eating plant-based, defined as a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds and avoiding meat, dairy, poultry and fish, protects you by lowering your risk of all the major illnesses that can be killers, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer (including breast and prostate cancer), as well as lower your risk of ever suffering from a stroke, or experiencing severe depression, Alzheimer’s or dying a premature death from any cause.
Plant-based eating is also an effective lifestyle approach to losing weight, including losing stubborn belly fat and maintaining a sustainable, healthy body weight, since when you focus on eating more whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains (in their least processed form) and legumes, nuts and seeds, and you give up meat, dairy and added sugar or processed flour, you will be eating more fiber, which leaves you feeling fuller for longer.
Whole plant foods contain fewer calories than foods that don't contain fiber (such as meat and dairy products). High fiber foods also change your gut microbiome for the better, helping promote the growth of so-called good gut bacteria, which can help bolster your mood, as well as ramp up your immunity and boost your brain power, allowing you to focus and have all day energy.
Eating Plant-Based Protects You From All Causes of Mortality
In a review study published in The Journal of the American Heart Association, people who ate a high-fiber, whole food plant-based diet not only were 32 percent less likely to die of heart disease but were 25 percent less likely to die of "all causes of mortality" than the general population of middle-aged adults. In other words, everyone can benefit from eating more plant-based foods, not just those who already have heart disease or diabetes.
If you think you’re eating healthy, the next question to ask yourself is this: “Is my diet the healthiest it could be?” If you aren’t eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day (and 90 percent of Americans currently do not meet this USDA recommendation) while avoiding saturated fat that is in meat and dairy and scientifically tied to increased risk of heart disease, then the answer is likely: You could be doing better, and one way is to go mostly plant-based in order to achieve your healthiest you.
Plant-Based Diets Lower Your Risk of Every Major Disease
Studies tell us that both eating more plant-based foods and consuming fewer animal products will significantly lower our risk of all main causes of illness and death, including these:
- Heart Disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Certain Cancers
- High Blood pressure
Plus you will lose weight and keep it off
The benefits of eating healthy plant-based include natural weight loss, because a whole food plant-based diet does not just mean avoiding meat and dairy. You will also be skipping highly processed foods such as chips or crackers, cookies or donuts, and avoiding refined flour used to make foods such as pasta and bread, as well as staying away from processed white rice and carb-filled cereal, or any packaged foods with added sugar. By cutting out highly processed food and refined flour, you will achieve a healthy weight and lose fat naturally.
Eat Mostly Plant-Based to Stay Healthy
There are well over 50 studies that have been published in the past several years that support the science behind plant-based diets for health and wellbeing. The best news: You don't have to go fully plant-based to get the benefits. Even 90 percent plant-based is enough to switch over the balance in your gut microbiome to become more diverse, healthier, and lower your risk of disease by reducing chronic inflammation (associated with many lifestyle diseases).
Switching from a meal centered around red meat, pork or chicken to one that is focused on legumes, whole grains, fruit and vegetables is one important mind-set shift. Once you do that, the health benefits become easy to achieve.
Where Do You Get Your Protein on a Plant-Based Diet.
Whether you go vegetarian, vegan or plant-based you will be able to get enough protein, calcium, iron, vitamin B12 and other important nutrients on a plant-based diet. In fact there are more sources of protein than you might think possible, all in the produce aisle.
One fascinating misconception: You don't need as much protein as you may be eating, and extra protein, just like any excess calories, can not be shoved into muscles or a liver already topped off, so it gets stored as fat. How much protein do you really need? For men it ranges from 55 to 75 grams a day and for women the amount is 45 to 60, both ranges depending on your age, size and fitness training schedule.
To figure out how much protein you personally need, follow this formula, The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is .8 grams per kilogram (g/kg) of body weight. Some experts, recommend slightly higher amounts for plant-based eaters who workout daily, so figure closer to 9. go 1 g/kg of body weight. And fitness enthusiasts may need even more, closer to 1.2 to 1.4 g/kg of body weight, and you need more as you age and lose muscle mass naturally.
Read More: How Much Protein Do You Really Need? The Answer May Surprise You
Here are just a handful of research and expert sources that back up the research and provide extra evidence that a plant-based diet is even healthier for you than the Mediterranean diet, which while focused on vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds and some fish, still allows dairy and there are many ways in which going plant-based is just a simpler path to health.
1. Go Plant-Based to to Avoid Heart Disease, According to a Cardiologist
Dr. Andrew Freeman, an associate professor in the Division of Cardiology and Department of Medicine at National Jewish Medical Center in Denver and an advisor to The Beet, is also known as the Vegan Cardiologist. He routinely advises his healthy patients to go plant-based, as do many other cardiologists.
“Eventually, even someone who is active, fit and healthy appearing, if they are not eating right, they have a heart event,” Freeman says, when asked how can a fit, active and asymptomatic person be convinced to change their diet.
“The reason that people who are healthy, active, and fit don’t eat this way is they believe they are living healthy. Eventually, they have a heart attack, and they end up in my office,” and that's when he gets their attention.
It makes sense that we may not know what lies ahead, he explains. Today, 48 percent of Americans have diagnosed heart disease, according to an American Heart Association Study, and according to Dr. Freeman, many more Americans are walking around who think they are healthy or have no symptoms before their something like heart disease arises, first showing up on a health test or light-headedness, or other sign that something is not right.
Freeman has seen a seemingly fit patient, who hikes 14,000-foot peaks, or mountain bikes up mountains at altitude in Colorado and then has mysterious chest pains, or sees stars, but he or she is still unaware they have any trace of heart disease. "They don’t think they are the profile of a heart patient, since they are neither overweight nor sedentary," he says. ”If you exercise but are not eating healthy, you will end up in a doctor’s office eventually. You have to be active and eat healthy to avoid heart disease. If you do one or the other, heart disease is fairly inevitable.”
Plant-Based Diets Help Prevent Heart Disease
You can lower your heart disease risk by 80 percent, just by living healthy, Freeman says. Genes are like light switches: You can turn them on or off depending on your choices. “Healthy lifestyle choices may reduce the risk of myocardial infarction (a heart attack) by more than 80 percent, with nutrition playing a key role” according to a recent study.
If you want to go vegetarian, as opposed to giving up dairy, that reduces cardiovascular disease mortality and the risk of coronary heart disease by 40 percent, this study found.
A Plant-Based Diet Can Even Reverse Heart Disease
Plant-based diets are the only dietary pattern to have shown to reverse symptoms of heart disease in patients. Blocked arteries became unblocked, either partially or fully, in as many as 91 percent of patients who try it, Freeman says. "Doctors often see patients who are surgical candidates who try to eat plant-based in advance of the surgery and then find that they have reversed their blockage through diet alone." If you have heart disease in your family, or an elevated risk factor such as high cholesterol, he recommends avoiding meat and dairy and going as plant-based as possible.
2. A Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet Helps Prevent Diabetes
In a recent review study of over 10,000 people to see which types of diets were most likely to be associated with type 2 diabetes, and the researchers, from the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, concluded that eating a healthy plant-based diet full of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts – and drinking coffee, helped lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The data divided people into three groups, those who followed a healthy plant-based diet, those who allowed themselves an unhealthy plant-based diet (with processed foods) and omnivores who identified as meat eaters. The researchers concluded that by avoiding processed foods full of refined carbs and added sugar, and eating a diet high in legumes, vegetables, and whole plant-based foods, and drinking coffee daily, it is possible to prevent diabetes in patients at risk. The study was published in the scientific journal Diabetologia.
"Our findings support the beneficial role of healthy plant-based diets in diabetes prevention and provide new insights for future investigation,” the study authors concluded.
Read More: Plant-Based Eating Can Lower Type 2 Diabetes Risk, Study Shows
3. Ditching Dairy Reduces Risk of Breast and Prostate Cancer
In recent studies, dairy has been linked to higher risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer. The study found that drinking even one serving of milk a day increases risk of breast cancer in women up by 50 percent. The more dairy you drink, the higher the risk.
The study found that consuming as little as one-quarter to one-third cup of dairy milk per day was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer of 30 percent,” lead researcher Gary E. Fraser, PhD, of Loma Linda University explained. “By drinking up to one cup per day, the associated risk went up to 50 percent, and for those drinking two to three cups per day, the risk increased further to 70 to 80 percent.”
Read More: Drinking Milk Increases Risk for Breast Cancer, a New Study Shows
Another study looked at men and the link between dairy and prostate cancer and found a significant link between drinking milk or consuming dairy, and increased risk of prostate cancer. Men who consumed dairy on a regular basis were found to have a 60 percent increased risk of developing prostate cancer as compared to men who steered clear of dairy, or consumed only a minimal amount (a teaspoon or less per day).
Read More: Study: Drinking Milk Increases Prostate Cancer Risk by 60 Percent
4. Lower Your Risk of Alzheimer’s on a Mostly Plant-Based Diet
In a study of 70 participants between the ages of 30 and 60 who consumed more plant-based foods (defined as a Mediterranean-style diet) showed fewer Alzheimer’s disease-related biomarker changes on their brain scans when compared to those who did not follow the diet as closely. So if you want to avoid Alzheimer's or dementia, remember to eat more plants!
You can't change your genes, but you can change how your body and brain express those genes, which is a field of study called epigenetics. Think of genes you're born with as a series of light switch and the food you eat as your chance to turn the switch for heart disease on or off. The research shows we can do this by getting good sleep, exercising for at least 30 minutes (an hour is better) daily, reducing our stress by doing things that bring us joy and eating a mostly plant-based diet of whole foods. We'll see you at the gym, and the produce section. And the movies.
5. Risk of High Blood Pressure and Stroke Connected to Red Meat
Meat eaters: Don't order it well-done, or better yet don't order it at all. A follow-up study of 32,925 women from the NHS and 53,852 women from the Nurses' Health Study II (NHSII) and 17,104 men from the Health Professionals Study found that eating well-done meat and hypertension were linked.
Open flame and/or high-temperature cooking and high “doneness” level for both red and white meat is associated with an increased risk of hypertension by 15% or more. (This was true of fish as well.) The results were consistent, regardless of the amount of meat consumption.
So if you still eat meat, don’t overcook it or order it well done, since you’re adding extra harmful carcinogens, and increasing your risk of hypertension, known as the "silent killer." Meanwhile, another study links cooked meat and cancer risks. Better yet, order the veggie burger, the bean burger, or try a cauliflower steak.
Research Shows a Plant-Forward Diet Reduces Stroke
In a review study of 306,473 men and women aged 40 to 73 years recruited between 2006 and 2010 and followed for nearly seven years, those with an unfavorable lifestyle were 66% more likely to have a stroke independent of genetic risk.
In the lowest-risk category for strokes were those who followed a healthy lifestyle (defined as not smoking, eating a healthy diet high in fruit, vegetables, and low in processed meats and red meats), with a body mass index of less than 30 and who exercised two or more times a week. If you have strokes in your family, go plant-based.
6. For Healthy Weight Loss Plant-Based Beats Out Keto Diets
In a recent study, people who ate more plant-based, and loaded up on legumes, lost more body fat than those who didn't eat a high-fiber diet. A new study found that by increasing consumption of plant-based whole foods, especially legumes, while decreasing consumption of meat, fish, poultry and oil, leads to significant weight loss and a decrease in body fat.
Read More: Study: Eat Legumes to Promote Weight Loss, Body Fat Reduction
In other studies, plant-based diets were more sustainable and effective in the long run than short-term low-carb diets such as the keto diet. Keto diets became popular a few years ago, because for a brief time cutting carbs works to achieve fast weight loss. But these diets are impossible to sustain, and they are terrible for long-term heart health since ketones, released when the body burns fat, have caused scarring in heart tissue in the lab. The minute a dieter abandons the keto diet they end up gaining back more weight than they lost to begin with.
Studies show that eating a whole food plant-based diet is more effective than even a keto diet for losing weight and keeping it off
Read More: Exactly What to Eat for to Lose Weight on a Plant-Based Diet
Plant-Based Diets Can Help You Lose Weight and Keep it Off
According to the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine. A plant-based approach makes it easier to lose weight and keep it off because it is full of fiber, which helps fill you up, without adding extra calories. Aim for 40 grams of fiber a day, PCRM says, which is easy to do when you move vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans to the center of your plate.
Try The Plant-Based Diet from The Beet, Created by a Nutritionist
The easiest way to lose weight on a plant-based diet is by following a meal plan created by a nutritionist. You shop and prep in advance, then follow the easy, delicious meals and lose weight without depriving yourself or all your favorite tastes and snacks. Because you fill up on fiber and whole foods, you will rarely if ever feel hungry or deprived.
7. Plant-Based Diets Strengthen Immune System, Help Fight Infections
Studies have looked at the connection between immune function and plant diets. While it might seem intuitive that any diet that reduces processed foods, added sugar, and most saturated fats would offer an advantage for immunity, the science became clear recently.
Plant-based diets lower chronic inflammation. Researchers in Italy studied fecal samples of 155 healthy volunteers divided by diet into omnivore, vegetarian and vegan. The stool samples were analyzed for their anti-inflammatory capacity in a model of mouse cells and no significant differences were reported.
Plant-Based Diets Boost Gut Health Which Promotes Immunity
An international team of scientists studied the impact of 3 months of a vegetarian diet on immune health in volunteers that were omnivores. The diet change did result in changes in the diversity of the bacteria in stool samples including the appearance of bacteria producing IgA, an immunoglobulin felt to protect the GI system. The balance of pro vs anti-inflammatory factors measured favored the plant-strong diet.
Plant-based diets improve white blood cell production. Australian researchers performed a review of the literature regarding vegetarian diets and inflammatory and immune health. The reported that inflammation markers like CRP were lower in vegetarian-based dietary patterns along with white blood counts and fibrinogen levels (an inflammatory and clotting marker). They called for more studies to further evaluate these findings.
Read More: Want Optimal Immunity? Eating a Vegan Diet May Be the Answer
8. A Fiber-Rich Diet Leads to Less Depression
In a study of 16,807 adults ages 20 years or older, those who ate 21 grams of fiber per day from fruits and vegetables were 40 percent less likely to exhibit depressive symptoms, compared with those who consumed less fiber.
So if you're having a tough week or feeling low for any reason, add more plants to your plate, choose fruit for snacks, and stay away from boxed cookies, bagged chips and anything that if left on the shelf would stay fresh longer than a loaf of fresh-baked bread. The best food for your mood: Fruits and veggies, nuts, grains and seeds.
Diets High In Processed Meat Linked to Higher Rate of Depression
In a meta-analysis of 41 studies on diet and depression, researchers found a direct correlation between mood and food:
- Eating high amounts of processed meats and trans fats found in junk foods increased incidence rates for clinical depression.
- Eating healthy foods such as vegetables, nuts, and fruits helped regulate emotions in patients experiencing depression, among other protective effects.
- The benefit of a healthy diet results in a 25% reduction of depression, and a lower dietary inflammatory index, which benefits your mind and body.
9. For Overall Health and Wellbeing, the Mediterranean Diet is Good...
In a review of 25,994 women over 12 years from the Women’s Health Study, researchers measured 40 biomarkers and found: Those who most closely followed the Mediterranean diet had up to 28% less cardiovascular disease. Remember that this is a mostly plant-based diet. At the least, follow the Mediterranean diet of whole plants and vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts, olive oil, and fish. Want to do even better? See The Portfolio Diet, below.
But a Plant-Based Diet is Better
Go nuts on nuts. The Portfolio Diet is a plant-based approach that includes daily consumption of at least 45 grams of nuts, at least 50 grams of plant protein like tofu and beans, and at least 20 grams of viscous fiber (veggies) and 2 grams of plant sterols. For nut lovers, this is very good news.
The Portfolio Diet was developed for patients needing to lower cholesterol and it worked. The Portfolio Diet was shown to lower cholesterol as effectively as statin use. Portfolio improved blood pressure and glucose metabolism, decreasing inflammation and reducing the 10-year risk of heart disease by 13 percent, according to a review of controlled trials by doctors in Toronto.
10. You Will You See Healthy Body Results Fast When You Go Plant Based
It only takes four weeks (one month!) to change your body's heart-healthy markers! One month is enough to see significant drops in measurable health indicators like cholesterol, blood pressure and lipids in your blood. In a study of 31 participants following a low-fat whole-food plant-based diet, in just four weeks:
- Significant reductions were observed for high blood pressure
- A drop in serum lipids, often a precursor to plaque and blockage
- A reduction in total medication usage and some took no meds at all
Other cardiovascular risk factors improved: Weight loss, smaller waist circumference, lower resting heart rate, and all blood markers for heart disease.
Change Your Gut Health and Improve Your Mood In Just 2 Weeks
Gut bacteria was measured in a study of 248 participants followed over a two-week short-term dietary intervention and in just 14 days on a high-veggie plant-based diet, the body's microbiome changed to be healthier, more diverse, and produce the "good bacteria" that have anti-inflammatory effects on the body.
Those who consumed more fruits, vegetables, and grains improved gut bacterial diversity when compared to those who did not increase these foods. Higher-fiber diets increase bacteria associated with anti-inflammatory compounds linked to improved glucose tolerance and metabolism.
That means in just two weeks of plant-based eating, your gut health changes to produce bacteria that fight inflammation, so you feel less bloated in the short-term, and long-term your gut bacteria can contribute to a reduction in your lifetime risk of heart disease.
Bottom Line: Going Plant-Based Is One of the Best Things to Do for Your Health
Whether you have heart disease in your family or are worried about breast cancer or diabetes, going plant-based lowers your risk of all major lifestyle diseases significantly. The best way to start? Eliminate meat and dairy and replace it with healthy whole grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds. You will feel the difference in your energy in just a few weeks.