There’s a lot of information out there about the best way to eat for health. But only one diet has been consistently proven to reduce cancer risk: a plant-based diet.
Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian or omnivore, adding more protein-rich plant foods into your diet can bring numerous benefits. Here’s why.
1. It’s good for your heart
A plant-based diet is the healthiest option for your heart and is backed by evidence from scientific research. It reduces the risk of heart disease by eliminating saturated fat, which has been linked to clogged arteries and increased blood pressure. It also decreases the amount of cholesterol in your system. A healthy plant-based diet consists of whole foods that provide protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and good fats. It also helps regulate blood sugar and hunger, reduces inflammation and supports the digestive tract.
The American Heart Association (AHA) states that a “healthy” plant-based diet is rich in vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts, and is low in processed meats and added sugars. It is also low in sodium and high in soluble fiber, which reduces your risk for stroke, obesity, hypertension and heart disease.
In addition, animal proteins are associated with the inflammation that can lead to atherosclerosis and subsequent cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. A plant-based diet eliminates this inflammation and can lower your blood pressure through a reduction in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium intake.
Plant-based proteins, such as legumes (like beans and peanuts), whole grains and vegetables are known to be incomplete sources of protein because they do not contain all nine essential amino acids. However, when combined with other protein sources in the same meal, they can deliver complete protein and all the benefits that come with it.
A plant-based diet can be tailored to meet your dietary needs, whether you are a vegan, vegetarian or pescatarian. In order to achieve the most optimal results for your health, it is important to identify which protein sources are best for you based on food allergies, intolerances and what you like to eat on a regular basis.
2. It’s good for your skin
Plant-based diets have been shown to promote healthy skin and reduce the symptoms of a variety of inflammatory and autoimmune skin diseases. One of the reasons may be due to the gut-skin axis, whereby a healthy microbiome supports healthy skin. A well-balanced plant based diet, including legumes, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables, provides plenty of protein along with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fibre that benefit skin health.
A plant-based diet can be a great way to meet your protein needs, especially if you are vegetarian or vegan. But it is important to be mindful of your overall protein intake and make sure you’re getting enough from whole foods. Protein powders can be a good supplement to help you achieve your protein goals, but it’s important not to rely on them as your main source of protein.
The best protein sources are a combination of meats, fish, eggs, dairy, and plants. A well-balanced diet that includes these proteins is optimal for your long-term health and can prevent chronic disease.
A plant based diet is also known to have less digestive side effects, such as gas and bloating, than an animal-based diet. In addition, plant based protein powders such as Blessed Protein have 4-7 times less environmental impact than whey-based powders. This makes them a better choice for those with dairy intolerances and allergies.
3. It’s good for your bones
A plant-based diet can be excellent for bones — as long as it includes the right amount of protein, calcium and other bone-building nutrients. It’s important to get these nutrients from a variety of sources so that your body has what it needs to build and maintain strong bones. Fortunately, it’s easy to meet these protein and calcium requirements on a plant-based diet if you make smart choices.
For example, a diet that is high in leafy greens, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, fortified foods and fresh fruits can provide the key nutrients you need. These nutrients help to protect against osteoporosis, which can happen when your bones become brittle as you age.
Protein is a building block of bone and is essential for all body functions. Protein also helps to form new muscle, and it is an important nutrient for people who are active. A balanced plant-based diet can provide all the protein you need for a healthy body, especially if you include a mix of legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and a few servings of low-fat dairy and lean proteins like skinless chicken and fish.
In addition to protein, a healthy plant-based diet should contain adequate amounts of fat from foods like olive oil, avocados and unsalted nuts and seeds. These healthy fats are rich in the monounsaturated fats that are known to promote heart health, and they also provide a source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Be sure to avoid added oils, salts and sugars from processed plant-based foods and beverages. Using this approach will keep your intake of calories, fat and sodium low. It’s also a good idea to plan ahead and map out your meals, so that you can incorporate a variety of plant-based proteins in each meal.
4. It’s good for your muscles
When people think of a plant-based diet, they often picture salads full of leafy greens and tomatoes. But, as bodybuilders and strength athletes are discovering, a plant-based diet can also build muscle. The key is to ensure you’re getting enough protein.
Aim to eat 0.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight over three-to-five meals spread throughout the day. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine advise this approach to help prevent overtraining and to optimize muscle growth.
Plant proteins are a great choice for achieving this goal, because they offer an abundance of essential amino acids (EAAs) that are the building blocks of protein and muscle. For example, a cup of black beans contains 15 grams of protein, and a cup of chickpeas has 16 grams of protein. Alternatively, you can use a plant-based protein powder. These supplements can contain a high percentage of protein — often 80% or more — and are convenient to add to your daily routine.
If you’re new to plant-based eating, it can be helpful to map out your meals ahead of time. This can help banish decision fatigue and allow you to choose the most nutritious options available. It’s also important to add in a variety of foods, as this will make sure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs.
Aside from the benefits mentioned above, plant-based foods are also packed with fiber and other nutrients that promote healthy digestion and a strong immune system. And, when you’re eating a well-rounded and balanced diet, you can get all the energy and protein your muscles need to perform at their best.
5. It’s good for your digestion
Plant protein contains more fiber and less fat than animal proteins, which can improve your digestion by promoting regularity and decreasing constipation. Moreover, it’s often lower in calories, which can help you achieve and maintain your weight loss goals.
Plant-based protein is also known to promote a healthy gut microbiota, reduce gut inflammation, and improve digestion and nutrient absorption. So, it’s important to include a variety of plants in your diet, such as vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
Eating more plant-based protein isn’t just good for your digestive system; it’s good for the planet, too. Eating plant-based proteins helps to lower the water pollution associated with meat production and reduces land use for raising animals.
If you’re not sure where to start, try "plantifying" your go-to meals. Swap out the meat in your burrito for tempeh or replace the chicken in your pad thai with tofu. You can even find recipes online that make it easy to cook your favorite dishes with plant based proteins.
One of the biggest reasons why people are starting to choose more plant-based foods is because they’re easier on their digestive system. Animal proteins are harder on the stomach because they’re typically richer in saturated fat. These fats can trigger inflammation, which is not only bad for your gut health but can also lead to a host of other health conditions like heart disease and diabetes.