How Plant-Based Diets Can Change Your Health

Lifestyle

Maybe you embraced meatless Mondays, but you still want to improve your diet. Perhaps you have read about the dangers of foods like processed meats, and you hope to take proactive measures to protect your health. Either way, you’ve heard about plant-based diets — and you crave the benefits.

Adopting a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can improve your mental and physical well-being. Does that mean that you need to give up meat entirely? Discover more about your options and begin implementing simple, healthy changes in your eating patterns today.

Types of Plant-Based Diets

Adopting a plant-based diet doesn’t mean that you have to live on kale smoothies. There are various lifestyles you can explore to find the one that works best for your body:

  • Flexitarian: In this type of diet, you do consume meat — but you don’t make it the highlight of your meal. Rather, when you do eat a piece of fish or chicken, it complements the other foods on your plate instead of vice-versa. Some people who fall into this category follow a pollotarian lifestyle where they avoid red meats like beef and pork but consume poultry products. However, others occasionally allow themselves a steak, but they don’t make it a daily occurrence.
  • Vegetarian: If you adopt a vegetarian diet, you don’t eat meat at all. However, some vegetarians practice a Lacto-Ovo variation where they do consume dairy products and eggs. Pescatarians also add fish into the mix.
  • Vegan: This lifestyle eschews the use of any animal products — many vegans avoid clothing and furnishings made with leather and wool as well as passing on beef burgers. You give up dairy and eggs, as well as items like Jello that seem vegetarian but contain flesh-based byproducts. Adherents to veganism often do so out of concern for animal rights.

It’s critical to understand that eliminating meat alone doesn’t necessarily make your diet much healthier. After all, beer and potato chips are technically vegan, but making them the staples of every meal will lead to considerable adverse effects. They critical component is getting more of the nutritious stuff.

Furthermore, you still need to consume all your macronutrients — carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Many new vegetarians and vegans struggle to consume adequate levels of plant-based protein. However, including foods like quinoa, lentils and even soy sauce in your meals can help you get your recommended daily amount.

Health Benefits of Eating More Plants

Now that you know your options, you should know how improving your eating habits will benefit your health. The perks of a plant-based diet are nearly too numerous to list, but here are a few.

1. You’ll Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease

According to one study, you can lower your risk of heart disease by up to 19% by adopting a plant-based diet. You can even reduce your chances of mortality from all causes by up to 25%. That’s a considerable incentive to hit the produce section of your local grocery the next time you make the trip.

Red meats contain substantial amounts of saturated fat, which can raise your cholesterol levels. You form a sticky plaque inside your arteries that can cut off the blood supply to your heart. When this happens, you have a heart attack. While some plants, such as avocados, do contain fats, they’re the heart-healthy unsaturated varieties that you need to keep your blood vessels pliable.

2. You’ll Boost Your Immune Function

Plants contain phytonutrients, which are the chemicals that give them their vivid hues. Different colors benefit the human body in various ways. For example, anthocyanins, which create red, purple and blue shades, have potent antioxidant properties that fight damaging free radicals in the body. Free radicals cause cell damage and death. Bright red vegetables, like red sweet peppers, also contain a ton of vitamin C to keep your immune system running at peak levels.

3. You Can Control Your Weight

People who follow a plant-based diet tend to control their weight more effectively than those who make meat the star of their dinner plates. Comparatively speaking, most fruits and vegetables contain fewer calories than a burger or chicken leg. While there are tasty exceptions — hello, fried green tomatoes anyone — the methods for preparing these dishes typically don’t involve added fats or flour.

4. You Might Ward Off Cancer

If cancer runs in your family, you might want to skip the trip to the sandwich shop. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies processed meats as carcinogenic, meaning they increase the risk of the disease. During the curing process, the techniques and chemicals used can increase the risk. Red meat is likewise problematic — this is one area where decreasing consumption counts. You do need to replace those calories somehow — why not enjoy a delicious salad for lunch instead?

5. Your Skin, Hair and Nails Will Look Fabulous

Another perk to going plant-based shows up when you glance in the mirror. When you get a full array of the nutrients your body needs, your skin, hair and nails will reflect the healthy change. Many foods like avocados and nuts contain high levels of vitamin E, an essential nutrient for keeping your hair silky. Deep, leafy greens contain an array of B-vitamins to boost energy and circulation and give you a rosy glow.

Improve Your Health by Adopting a More Plant-Based Diet

The advantages of adopting a plant-based diet abound. Even if you aren’t ready to experiment with an entirely vegetarian or vegan meal plan, try replacing one or two meat-based meals with a veggie version each week. Once you notice the perks, you’ll look forward to eating your greens.

Jennifer Landis
Jennifer Landis is a wife, mom, writer, and healthy living blogger. She enjoys longs walks around the block with her toddler, prefers tea over coffee, and eats way too much peanut butter. You can find more from Jennifer on her blog, http://mindfulnessmama.com or follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis

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