There are a lot of benefits to following a plant-based diet, but first let’s clear something up – eating plant based doesn’t mean you can’t eat meat. When we think of a plant-based diet we immediately think vegetarian or vegan, but what about flexitarian? The Flexitarian Diet was created by dietitian Dawn Jackson, and the clue is in the name, it’s flexible. Rather than eliminating certain foods it centres around the practice of eating mostly fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The aim is to consume protein from plants instead of meat where possible, while still incorporating meat and animal products occasionally. It’s a less restrictive approach.
Now, let’s get onto the benefits.
A plant-based diet could help to lower blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of heart disease
A 2009 study found that 43% of participants following a vegan diet were able to reduce their dosage of blood-sugar lowering medication, compared to only 26% of participants who followed an American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommended diet.
More recently, a review published in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Disease, in 2019, showed that following a plant-based diet can help reverse coronary heart disease (CHD). It also found that following a vegetarian diet demonstrated a 40% lower risk of CHD. Meat contains saturated fat, which, when eaten in excess, can play a role in developing heart problems.
Going plant-based can lower chronic inflammation levels. A review published in Frontiers in Nutrition detailed a three week vegan lifestyle intervention which resulted in a 33% reduction in CRP levels, CRP (C-reactive protein) is an inflammatory marker.
Red meat is linked to higher levels of chronic inflammation, which is thought to be due to the high level of saturated fat and iron in red meat. The naturally low-fat and fibre-rich components of a vegan diet are said to mediate the pathways that alleviate joint inflammation and pain. Moreover, plant-based foods are rich in carotenoids and flavonoids, chemicals that help eliminate the free radicals which damage DNA and prompt an inflammatory response.
Can aid weight loss
This is primarily due to the fact that the flexitarian diet favours plant foods over processed foods, which are typically higher in calories. A review of studies in over 1,100 people found that those who ate a vegetarian diet for 18 weeks lost 2kg more than those who did not. Furthermore, a Diabetes Care study found notable differences in the BMI (Body Mass Index) of meat eaters compared to non-meat eaters.
It can reduce your environmental impact
Alongside the health benefits that come with following a plant-based diet, reducing your meat consumption can help the world around you too. The World Health Organisation stated that ‘reducing livestock herds would also reduce emissions of methane, which is the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide.’ According to a report by GRAIN and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the five biggest meat and dairy producers emit more combined greenhouse gas emissions than ExxonMobil, Shell or BP, the top three oil production companies.
Reducing our intake just a small amount can make a difference, even if it’s just opting for a vegetarian dish every once in a while.
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