Six Science-Backed Benefits of Plant-Based Eating
Right now, more people are making the conscious decision to reduce their meat and dairy intake in the UK than ever before. In fact, research by The Vegan Society suggests that the number of people following plant-based lifestyles in the UK increased 400% from 2006 to 2018.
For many vegans and vegetarians, their decision to exclude meat from their diets was reached on the basis of animal welfare. For others, it is a lifestyle choice rooted primarily in the potential health benefits of excluding animal products.
Irrespective of motivations, however, the vast majority of people who switched to plant-based diets report a wide variety of improvements to their health and wellbeing over time. Vegan diets have long been associated with healthy weight loss and easier weight management, but there are several additional science-based health benefits of a vegan diet.
Partial Vs Total Exclusion
Most scientists and public health authorities agree that a reduction in animal product intake could benefit the vast majority of people eating a mixed diet. Contrary to popular belief, it is not strictly necessary to exclude animal products entirely to make noticeable improvements to your health and wellbeing.
Simply by upping your intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and healthy sources of protein, you could do your physical and psychological health a world of good.
At least, that’s what the science of veganism seems to suggest, with mounting evidence to support the broad and diverse benefits of a vegan diet.
Specifically, six major health benefits have been associated with veganism, based on controlled studies and extensive data analysis. Though some of the benefits of switching to a diet are pure common sense, with no real scientific verification required.
Let’s take a look at a few of these benefits in a little more detail:
1. A Vegan Diet Is Richer in Certain Nutrients
First up, switching to a plant-based diet naturally means the elimination of animal-derived products. For those who previously ate animal products on a regular basis, this also means upping their intake of other foods to replace these products.
Going vegan means becoming much more reliant on things like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and so on. All of which are packed with important nutrients and are considered to be ‘healthier’ in general than a long list of animal-based products.
While sensible dietary choices are still essential as a vegan, veganism almost always leads to a healthier diet in general. Junk food and processed food is still prevalent on the plant-based market, but evidence suggests that health-conscious vegans are significantly less likely to rely on them than those who follow carnivorous diets.
2. A Plant-Based Diet Can Help You Lose Excess Weight
There’s also evidence to suggest that making the switch to a plant-based lifestyle can make it much easier to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. Several observational studies conducted over recent years have confirmed that in general, vegans (and vegetarians) are statistically more likely to have a lower BMI than meat-eaters.
The weight-management benefits of following a plant-based diet are attributed to two main factors. Firstly, the consumption of greater quantities of fruits, vegetables and sources of dietary fibre has long been associated with healthy weight loss. Secondly, research has shown that those who follow a plant-based diet are typically more likely to actively monitor their intake of fat and calories.
These two factors combined may explain why vegans are statistically more likely to reach and maintain a healthy weight than those who consume a standard ‘Western’ diet.
3. Veganism Could Lower Blood Sugar Levels and Boost Kidney Function
The American Diabetes Association (ADA), American Heart Association (AHA) and National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) have all published papers suggesting that veganism could be beneficial for people with diabetes, or an elevated risk of developing the disorder.
This is due to the fact that vegan diets are closely associated with higher insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar levels and a subsequently reduced Type 2 diabetes risk of up to 78%. A study performed to examine the association found that among patients who take blood-sugar-lowering medication, more than 40% were able to reduce their reliance on medication by switching to plant-based diets.
Elsewhere, studies have also drawn links between veganism and a reduced risk of diminished kidney function. Specifically, this was evident where participants in the study swapped meat for healthier sources of animal protein over a tracked period of time.
Of course, none of the above suggests that switching to a plant-based diet represents the potential cure (or even an effective form of treatment) for diabetes or kidney problems. Though it does suggest that veganism could be beneficial for individuals at risk of certain conditions.
4. Veganism May Offer Some Protection Against Certain Cancers
It is a scientifically proven fact that our lifestyle choices and dietary habits have a major influence on our risk of developing certain cancers. In fact, the World Health Organisation indicates that up to a third of all cancer could be avoided by making simple changes to our lifestyle habits, including our dietary choices.
For example, some studies have drawn links between the increased consumption of legumes and reduction in colorectal cancer risk by as much as 18%. In addition, consuming a minimum of seven portions of fruit and vegetables each day could reduce a person’s risk of developing terminal cancer by up to 15%.
Switching to a plant-based lifestyle inevitably means significantly increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, healthy grains and so on. This goes some way to explain why a review carried out on more than 95 separate studies found that those who follow 100% plant-based lifestyles may be up to 15% less likely to develop terminal cancer.
Another possible explanation is the way in which vegan diets completely exclude the kinds of heavily processed meats and animal products that have been linked with an elevated risk of certain types of cancers. As previously touched upon, vegans are also statistically more likely to make healthy and informed lifestyle choices, which could explain the lower cancer risk associated with veganism.
5. Plant-Based Diets Could Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease
Countless studies have drawn direct links between plant-based diet and a significantly lower risk of heart disease. It has been proven on many occasions that eating more fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and fibre can offer an elevated level of protection from high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
Several studies comparing the diets of vegans to those with mixed dietary habits found that plant-based living could reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure by as much as 75%. In addition, some studies have found that fatal heart disease risk could be up to 42% lower for those who exclusively follow a plant-based lifestyle.
From blood sugar levels to LDL cholesterol to blood pressure, the exclusion (total or partial) of meat and animal products is associated with a reduction in countless risk factors linked with heart disease. Vegan diets also typically include the consumption of more nuts and wholegrains, which have long been associated with improved heart health.
6. A Vegan Diet May Be Beneficial for Arthritis Sufferers
Last but not least, patients with arthritis could potentially benefit from a plant-based diet, having been associated with effective and ongoing pain relief in several recent studies. Specifically, patients who switched to a vegan diet for a minimum of six weeks reported a noticeable reduction in the symptoms they were experiencing before making the switch.
From morning stiffness to joint swelling to pain and discomfort, numerous studies have produced evidence to suggest links between veganism and partial relief from the symptoms of arthritis.
The researchers suggested that this could be due to the increase in consumption of probiotic-rich whole foods when following a plant-based diet, which are associated with beneficial effects against the pain and discomfort of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Under no circumstances should making the switch to veganism be misinterpreted as a miracle cure or protective measure against any condition or disorder. The only person in a suitable position to advise you on your dietary habits is your doctor, who should be consulted before making any major lifestyle choices.
Nevertheless, there’s growing evidence to suggest that transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle - partially or exclusively - could bring a long list of benefits to those who previously consumed animal-based products on a regular basis.
Associations between eating more fruits and vegetables and enjoying a healthy lifestyle are nothing new. It’s just that with each study and review carried out, the true benefits of making most conscientious lifestyle choices become all the more apparent.