In recent years plant-based diets have become increasingly popular, and for good reason too. Food scientists and registered dietitians have praised the benefits of plant-based diets for years, and studies have found that it could help you lose weight, improve heart health and keep your brain healthy – as well as having a positive impact on the environment.
What is a plant based diet?
‘Plant-based’ is not defined by one specific diet, but by simply making more of a conscious choice to consume less animal-based products and more plant-based ones. Some interpretations of these diets include:
Vegetarian: This diet allows animal products such as dairy and eggs, but no kind of meat. Instead vegetarians choose plant protein such as lentils, tofu and nuts.
Vegan: This diet excludes all types of animal products including dairy, eggs and honey.
Flexitarian: The most flexible of plant-based diets. Doesn’t exclude any types of food completely, but is primarily filled with plants.
Swapping from a heavy meat-based diet for a plant-based one could lower the risk of obesity. According to one study of overweight adults who followed a whole-food plant based diet for a year found they lost an average of 9.25 pounds. It is suggested that the reason for this is that whole grains and vegetables are digested more slowly compared to meat products, and fruit contains antioxidants and fibre which helps to prolong fullness. Another study also found that the average BMI of vegans was 23.6 whereas the average for meat eaters was 28.8 – which qualifies as overweight.
The positive impact a plant-based diet can have on heart health may be one of the most well-known benefits of this kind of diet. A study of over 200,000 people found that following a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, legumes and nuts significantly lowered the risk of developing heart disease than a meat-heavy diet. However it is important to note that this study was based on a whole-food diet, and that those following a plant-based diet that includes sugary drinks, fruit juices and refined grains would have a slightly increased risk of contracting the disease.
It has also been found that moving from a heavy meat-based diet to a plant-based one can also lower ‘bad’ cholesterol by 10-15%, which is a condition that can potentially lead to heart attack, stroke or heart disease.
Increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet could reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia, according to studies. A review found that eating just 100g extra of fruit and vegetables a day led to a 13% reduction in the risk of dementia, its suggested that the reason for this is that plants and wholegrains are rich in polyphenols which may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and may help reverse cognitive decline.
Simple plant-based swaps
Want to try a plant-based diet but not sure where to start? Try these plant based swaps:
- Cow’s milk for oat, almond or soya milk
- Honey for agave or maple syrup
- Parmesan cheese for nutritional yeast
- Butter for coconut oil or sunflower spread
- Eggs for bananas or flaxseeds and water in baking