Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

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“Eating an abundance of vegetables, fruits and other plant foods may protect against heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension and birth defects.” – The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Health

Why are so many Americans going vegetarian these days? One factor might be the large body of evidence presented in recent years on the health benefits of meat-free eating. According to the National Academy of Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society─and at least 20 other health-related organizations in the U.S. and abroad─a produce-rich, low-fat, high-fiber diet offers the greatest disease prevention across the board. Here’s how:

Since meat and dairy products are primary sources of saturated fat─and the only sources of cholesterol─vegetarians avoiding these foods are better protected. Going meat-free also improves cardiovascular health by reducing cholesterol with plant fiber, which animal products lack. In fact, a low-fat, high-fiber, vegetarian or vegan diet, combined with stress reduction techniques, smoking cessation, and exercise, may actually reverse some forms of heart disease.

Cancer prevention

Vegetables, fruits and other plant foods are bursting with vitamins, minerals and natural antioxidants that protect our cells from free-radical damage, thereby helping to nip the cancer cascade in the bud. Plant foods also contain thousands of phytochemicals─natural compounds that protect against cancer in a variety of ways. Several large European studies have shown that vegetarians are about 40% less likely to develop cancer compared to meat-eaters.

Blood pressure reduction

Many studies have shown that people who follow vegetarian diets typically have lower blood pressure than meat eaters. This is partly because fresh produce is naturally rich in potassium, while processed meats and dairy products are high in salt. Salt tends to raise blood pressure, whereas potassium reduces it. Research suggests that the more fiber, fruits, and vegetables people consume, the lower their blood pressure is.

Diabetes prevention

Vegetarian diets are naturally cholesterol-free, higher in fiber, and lower in saturated fat than the traditional American diet. More than 50 fiber grams per day may help lower blood glucose levels. Type 2 diabetes is better managed─and can even be reversed─with a healthy, low-fat, vegetarian diet and regular exercise, as this combination allows insulin to work more effectively, promoting more stable glucose levels.

Healthy weight loss

While it’s easy to eat overeat refined, high calorie, processed foods, fruits, veggies, beans and grains are fiber-rich─and fresh produce is also water-dense─which means they tend to fill you up before you consume too many calories. Because of this, you may find that you can eat a higher volume of fresh, whole food, while still keeping that waistline trim.

While these are only a few of the health benefits you can expect by targeting a plant-based diet, they’re impressive enough. And, along with improving personal health, eating lower on the food chain significantly helps the environment as well. Now, that’s worth celebrating!

References available upon request

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