The Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet by Dr. Ailis Brosnan
World-renowned figures as diverse as philosophers Plato and Nietzsche, political leaders Benjamin Franklin, Gandhi, Bill Clinton and pop icons Paul McCartney and Bob Marley have all advocated the benefits of a plant-based diet.
With an increasing number of celebrities, athletes and political figures going plant-based, it has started to create awareness of the benefits. And the benefits are far reaching, not only does it massively improve our health, but it also obviously has great benefits for the animals and the environment.
As I have been plant-based over 30 years, it’s hard for me to recall the improvements in health I felt back then. However, I do know that now, it is what fuels me to live a healthy and active lifestyle and has kept my family (my husband and two children aged 5 & 9) healthy and fit all these years.
Eating a healthy plant-based diet is simply good for us. In fact, more and more athletes are going plant-based because of all the benefits. They find they recover quicker and their performances improve. I can attest to this as I completed an Ironman Triathlon last year (3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and a marathon) and I am training for an ultra marathon this year. I feel so well nourished on a plant-based diet and it really fuels me well to keep going the distance.
Check out some of the innumerable health benefits of getting plant-powered below, and start eating more plants this week. By filling your plate up with the good stuff, there’s less room for the animal foods that can leave you sluggish and tired. I guarantee you that you will feel better, have more energy and improve your health.
Vegan diets—naturally low in saturated fat, high in fiber, and replete with cancer-protective phytochemicals—help to prevent cancer. Large studies in England and Germany have shown that vegetarians are about 40 percent less likely to develop cancer compared to meat-eaters. In the United States, studies of Seventh-Day Adventists have shown significant reductions in cancer risk among those who avoided meat. Similarly, breast cancer rates are dramatically lower in nations, such as China, that follow plant-based diets.
Harvard studies that included tens of thousands of women and men have shown that regular meat consumption increases colon cancer risk by roughly 300 percent. A recent report noted that the rate of breast cancer among premenopausal women who ate the most animal (but not vegetable) fat was one-third higher than that of women who ate the least animal fat. One study linked dairy products to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Daily meat consumption triples the risk of prostate enlargement.
Vegetarians avoid the animal fat linked to cancer and get abundant fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals that help to prevent cancer. In addition, blood analysis of vegetarians reveals a higher level of “natural killer cells,” specialized white blood cells that attack cancer cells.
Beating Heart Disease
Vegetarian diets also help prevent heart disease. Animal products are the main source of saturated fat and the only source of cholesterol in the diet. Additionally, fiber helps reduce cholesterol levels and animal products contain no fiber. When individuals switch to a high-fiber, low-fat diet their serum cholesterol levels often drop dramatically. Studies have demonstrated that a low-fat, high-fiber, vegetarian or vegan diet combined with stress reduction techniques, smoking cessation, and exercise, or combined with prudent drug intervention, could actually reverse atherosclerosis—hardening of the arteries.
Lowering Blood Pressure
In the early 1900s, nutritionists noted that people who ate no meat had lower blood pressure. They also discovered that vegetarian diets could, within two weeks, significantly reduce a person’s blood pressure. These results were evident regardless of the sodium levels in the vegetarian diets. People who follow vegetarian diets typically have lower blood pressure. Plant products are generally lower in fat and sodium and have no cholesterol. Vegetables and fruits are also rich in potassium, which helps lower blood pressure.
Preventing and Reversing Diabetes
Non-insulin-dependent (adult-onset) diabetes can be better controlled and sometimes even eliminated through a low-fat, vegetarian diet along with regular exercise. Such a diet, low in fat and high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, allows insulin to work more effectively. The diabetic person can more easily regulate glucose levels. While a vegetarian diet cannot eliminate the need for insulin in people with type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes, it can often reduce the amounts of insulin used.
Gallstones, Kidney Stones, and Osteoporosis
Vegetarian diets have been shown to reduce one’s chances of forming kidney stones and gallstones. Diets that are high in protein, especially animal protein, tend to cause the body to excrete more calcium, oxalate, and uric acid. These three substances are the main components of urinary tract stones. British researchers have advised that persons with a tendency to form kidney stones should follow a vegetarian diet. The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that high animal protein intake is largely responsible for the high prevalence of kidney stones in the United States and other developed countries and recommends protein restriction for the prevention of recurrent kidney stones.
Similarly, high-cholesterol, high-fat diets—the typical meat-based diet—are implicated in the formation of gallstones. The consumption of meaty diets, compared to vegetarian diets, has been shown to nearly double the risk of gallstones in women.
For many of the same reasons, vegetarians are at a lower risk for osteoporosis. In nations with mainly vegetable diets (and without dairy product consumption), osteoporosis is less common than in the U.S., even when calcium intake is less than in the U.S. Calcium is important, but there are plenty of plant-based sources of calcium so you don’t have to rely on dairy products.
A 1985 Swedish study demonstrated that individuals with asthma practicing a vegan diet for a full year have a marked decrease in the need for medications and in the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. Twenty-two of the 24 subjects reported improvement by the end of the year.
Is it too late to start making changes now?
It’s never too late to improve your diet. According to experts. “It’s never too early or too late to embrace a healthier lifestyle,” Ostfeld says. “The benefits come quickly and continue to accrue with time.” In one study, women over 50 who ate a mostly plant diet were 34 percent more likely to be free of chronic diseases 15 years later than women whose diets included more meat.