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The health benefits of a plant-based diet

  • 5 min read

This is a guest blog written by Camilla Clare - a vegan naturopath, nutritionist, herbalist and plant-based nutrition expert.

Honestly, I could harp on all day about the benefits of a plant-based diet. Truly, I could, because there are SO many. Since going vegan, I’ve noticed effortless maintenance of a healthy weight, far more energy, resolution of my arthritis, major improvement of my mental health, compliments over my hair and skin, the list goes on. However, for the sake of brevity I’m going to hone in on five amazing science-backed benefits of a plant-based diet.

1. Weight

In a world where so many of us struggle with keeping our weight in a healthy range, a plant-based diet maybe the easiest way to maintain a healthy body weight.  In fact, over twenty studies show vegans to be more slender than other dietary groups.1

In a very large cohort study, the Adventist Health Study, vegans were the only dietary cohort who fell into a healthy, normal weight range.2 

Switching to a plant-based diet can be a great key to achieving weight loss if that’s your goal.  Researchers behind the BROAD Study concluded that “To the best of our knowledge, this research has achieved greater weight loss at 6 and 12 months than any other trial that does not limit energy intake or mandate regular exercise.”3

With major advantages our health and confidence, why not try a plant-based diet today?  

 

2. Improved cardiovascular health 

So many of us, particularly as we get older struggle with cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.  Whilst, as a naturopath, I know there’s a lot we can do with herbal medicine to improve these, changing our diet is the most powerful thing we can do.

Adoption of a healthy, well-planned plant-based diet has been widely documented to improve all of these cardiometabolic risk factors in most individuals. 2,4–6

Incredibly, two plant-based doctors, Esselstyn and Ornish used a plant-based diet in their clinically-documented reduction of arterial plaque.7,8  Whilst other lifestyle medicine protocols undoubtedly also had a role to play, there is no other diet that has ever been shown to lead to this outcome. 

 

3. Anti-ageing

I have to admit, what initially sparked my interest in a plant-based diet 10years ago was the promise of anti-ageing benefits.  Whilst I could see this evidently in the likes of people like Mimi Kirk and Annette Larkins, it wasn’t until I undertook my health science degree in naturopathy that I understood why this might be the case.  

Whilst there are more mechanisms at play, some of which are yet to be discovered, a few ways in which a plant-based diet shines for anti-ageing are through the high level of antioxidants and carotenoids present in natural, non-animal-derived foods, and the inhibition of the mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) pathwaya key ageing pathway.  

Plant-based foods are found to have between 5-33 times more antioxidants than  animal foods, and carotenoids (which protect you from UV damage and are scientifically proven to make you appear more attractive) are found in abundance in dark green and orange vegetables.9–11  The naturally lower levels of leucine found in plant protein compared to animal foods is a key way in which mTOR is inhibited through a plant-based diet.12,13

Another really cool thing about plant-based diets is that, in conjunction with other lifestyle medicine practices, they’ve been shown to lengthen telomeres, a hallmark of biological youth. 14

 

4. Mood

One of the greatest benefits I’ve experienced since going vegan is a better mood; science suggests it might not just be me.  Again, there are several mechanisms at play but one is the anti-inflammatory,, unrefined, carbohydrate-dominant nature of a whole food plant-based diet, which then has a marked impact on the destiny of tryptophan in its journey to becoming serotonin.15,16

It’s important, however, that you are vigilant over your intake of B12 and zinc, both of which are critical for mental health, and are worth your attention if you’re plant-based. See a plant-based nutritionist, naturopath or dietitian for further support.

 

5. Gastrointestinal integrity

Microbial diversity has systemic benefits for our health, and the greatest predictor of microbiome diversity is the variety of plant foods we consume.17  Look to switch up your diet as much as possible to reap all the benefits.  

Amongst other benefits, the high fibre content of a plant-based diet can do wonders for healthy weight, hormonal health, relief of constipation and cardiometabolic risk factors. 

Plant-based diets may even be helpful for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), with a semi-vegetarian diet shown to be promising in relapse-prevention of Crohn’s and a high consumption of animal protein associated with increased incidence.18,19 


That’s just a taste of some of the benefits inherent in a plant-based diet.  If you’re just a little bit sold, Flave’s delicious meals are a great way to trial out a plant-based lifestyle and see if it suits you! 


References:

  1. Mangels R, Messina V.The Dietian’s Guide to Vegetarian Diets: Issues and Applications. 3rd ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning; 2010.
  2. Le LT, Sabaté J. Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets: Findings from the Adventist Cohorts.Nutrients. 2014;6:2131-2147. doi:10.3390/nu6062131
  3. Wright N, Wilson L, Smith M, Duncan B, McHugh P. The BROAD study: A randomised controlled trial using a whole food plant-based diet in the community for obesity, ischaemic heart disease or diabetes.Nutr Diabetes. 2017;7(3):e256. doi:10.1038/nutd.2017.3
  4. Yokoyama Y, Levin SM, Barnard ND. Association between plant-based diets and plasma lipids: a systematic review and meta-analysis.Nutr Rev. 2017;75(9):683-698. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nux030
  5. Barnard ND, Scialli AR, Turner-McGrievy G, Lanou AJ, Glass J. The effects of a low-fat, plant-based dietary intervention on body weight, metabolism, and insulin sensitivity.Am J Med. 2005;118(9):991-997. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2005.03.039
  6. Turner-McGrievy G, Harris M. Key Elements of Plant-Based Diets Associated with Reduced Risk of Metabolic Syndrome.Curr Diab Rep. 2014;14(9):524. doi:10.1007/s11892-014-0524-y
  7. Esselstyn CB. Resolving the Coronary Artery Disease Epidemic Through Plant-Based Nutrition.Prev Cardiol. 2001;4(4):171-177. doi:10.1111/j.1520-037X.2001.00538.x
  8. Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, Billings JH, et al. Intensive Lifestyle Changes for Reversal of Coronary Heart Disease.JAMA. 1998;280(23):2001. doi:10.1001/jama.280.23.2001
  9. Carlsen MH, Halvorsen BL, Holte K, et al. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide.Nutr J. 2010;9:3. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-3
  10. Stephen ID, Coetzee V, Perrett DI. Carotenoid and melanin pigment coloration affect perceived human health.Evol Hum Behav. 2011;32(3):216-227. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2010.09.003
  11. Whitehead RD, Coetzee V, Ozakinci G, Perrett DI. Cross-cultural effects of fruit and vegetable consumption on skin color.Am J Public Health. 2012;102(2):212-213. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2011.300495
  12. Gallinetti J, Harputlugil E, Mitchell JR. Amino acid sensing in dietary-restriction-mediated longevity: Roles of signal-transducing kinases GCN2 and TOR.Biochem J. 2013;449(1):1-10. doi:10.1042/BJ20121098
  13. Fontana L, Partridge L, Longo VD. Extending healthy life span-from yeast to humans.Science (80- ). 2010;328(5976):321-326. doi:10.1126/science.1172539
  14. Ornish D, Lin J, Chan JM, et al. Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity and telomere length in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer: 5-year follow-up of a descriptive pilot study.Lancet Oncol. 2013;14(11):1112-1120. doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(13)70366-8
  15. Kennedy PJ, Cryan JF, Dinan TG, Clarke G. Kynurenine pathway metabolism and the microbiota-gut-brain axis.Neuropharmacology. 2017;112(Pt B):399-412. doi:10.1016/j.neuropharm.2016.07.002
  16. Wurtman RJ, Wurtman JJ, Regan MM, McDermott JM, Tsay RH, Breu JJ. Effects of normal meals rich in carbohydrates or proteins on plasma tryptophan and tyrosine ratios.Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77(1):128-132. doi:10.1093/ajcn/77.1.128
  17. McDonald D, Hyde E, Debelius JW, et al. American Gut: an Open Platform for Citizen Science Microbiome Research. Greene CS, ed.mSystems. 2018;3(3):e00031-18. doi:10.1128/mSystems.00031-18
  18. Chiba M, Abe T, Tsuda H, et al. Lifestyle-related disease in Crohn’s disease: Relapse prevention by a semi-vegetarian diet. 2484. doi:10.3748/wjg.v16.i20.2484
  19. Jantchou P, Morois S, Clavel-Chapelon F, Boutron-Ruault MC, Carbonnel F. Animal protein intake and risk of inflammatory bowel disease: The E3N prospective study.Am J Gastroenterol. 2010;105(10):2195-2201. doi:10.1038/ajg.2010.192

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