Health Benefits of a Plant-based Diet

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What does it mean to be plant-based?

Let's start at the beginning. Eating plant-based is a lifestyle rather than a diet. You can start by filling your plate with colorful and nourishing fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes to reap the most benefits. You can totally avoid animal derived food such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy, or you can choose to include these foods in small amounts.

 

What makes a plant-based diet healthy?

A plant-based diet is rich in dietary fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients and hydration. Eating more whole-food plant-based dishes replaces unhealthy, refined foods that offer little nutritional value that are common in our modern day food system. 

 

What are the health benefits of a plant-based diet?

From improved mental clarity and digestion to clearer skin, eating more plants has many scientifically proven health benefits. Since there is a sometimes overwhelming plethora of studies supporting the health benefits of plant-based diets including vegan, vegetarian and even omnivorous diets (see our "How to Live Like a Centenarian" blog), we'll walk you through some of the basics.

 

Mental health boost

Studies show that transitioning to a plant-based diet can improve depression, anxiety and workplace productivity. There’s more you can do along with your plant based diet too: Incorporating more plant-based foods, meditation and sleep are all shown to improve mental health. More specifically, antioxidants found in whole plant foods are associated with a lower risk of developing depression. Foods high in antioxidants include blueberries, tomatoes and broccoli. Studies also show that high carbohydrate diets are associated with less depression, hostility and mood disturbances. The key to the mood boosting powers of carbohydrates is to pair them with a plant-based protein source high in the amino acid tryptophan. Complex carbohydrates consumed with tryptophan rich foods like sesame or sunflower seeds allows your body to best utilize tryptophan which is the building block of serotonin, the happiness hormone.

 Check out a previous MINDWELL blog, Nutrition + Mental Health for more information on caffeine, fermented foods and omega-3 fatty acids and their effect on mental health. 

 

Improved digestion

We’re going to be straightforward about this: Plant-based foods are high in dietary fiber which allows for larger and more frequent bowel movements and decreased transit time. Intestinal transit time is the amount of time it takes for the food you eat to be fully digested. Studies show an association with decreased bowel transit time and decreased incidence of colon cancer and other painful health problems (um, for example, hemorrhoids.) Another benefit of a high fiber diet (from whole food plant sources!) is that fiber binds to toxins in the body, like lead and mercury, and clears them away through daily bowel movements. Increase your daily fiber consumption by adding berries to breakfast, cucumbers and carrots with hummus for a snack or bean soup at any meal.  

 

Clear skin

Plant-based foods are rich in beauty-boosting phytonutrients including carotenoids and flavonoids. Vitamin A is commonly associated with skin health and the body makes this from beta-carotene that is found in foods such as pumpkin, apricots, cantaloupe and kale. Vitamin A boosts skin health by retaining moisture in the epidermis, the outer layer of your skin, which in turn helps to prevent wrinkles. Dietary fiber is also responsible for improved skin as some studies show that the strain of constipation can lead to varicose veins. For radiant skin from head to toe, incorporate leafy greens, sweet potato and cucumber into your next meal. For more on skin health, check out our previous blog, How Food Affects Your Skin.

Michael Pollen put it best, “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”