A woman enjoying a salad as part of her plant-based diet.
Healthy Living

The Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

Aug 28 2020

If steaks and burgers are common staples of your diet, you might have a hard time understanding how anyone could live without them. However, a growing number of people are turning to plant-based diets. When followed the correct way, these eating habits can help improve your quality of life now and later.

Understand the types of plant-based diets

Before addressing the benefits of a plant-based diet, it might help to consider what “plant-based” actually means. People following this kind of diet tend to exclude meat for their meal planning, but they do so to varying degrees.

  • Flexitarians are sometimes called semi-vegetarians. As the name implies, they mostly follow a vegetarian menu. They also allow themselves to enjoy meat on occasion.
  • Pescatarians allow themselves to eat seafood, along with dairy and eggs, but not other forms of meat.
  • Vegans avoid any type of food that comes from an animal source. That covers foods like fish, eggs, meat and dairy products like cow’s milk and cheese.
  • Vegetarians place fewer restrictions on their diet. For example, they tend to eat eggs and dairy products.

What all these people have in common is that they try to consciously minimize their meat intake and eat more foods that come from plants. These actions alone have health benefits.

Assess the health benefits

Skipping out on meat can decrease your risk of developing problems such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. It can also reduce your chances of having a stroke. Overall, studies have shown that less meat can lead to a longer life.

This kind of diet can also enhance brain health. By eating more green, leafy veggies, fruits and whole grains, you can benefit from a cognitive boost. Of course, this advantage depends on whether you opt to replace those meat dishes with a diverse menu of healthier foods.

Assess the health consequences

If you don’t consume a diverse array of foods, you might run into various health problems. For example, relying only on vegetables will deprive you of important vitamins and minerals that your brain needs to stay healthy. Getting enough protein is a concern as well, since meat is a great source of it.

People following plant-based diets also have to look out for junk food. Just because a snack or dish is labeled “vegetarian” or “vegan” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy.

Cover your bases

First and foremost, before making any major changes to your diet, first consult with your primary care physician. They will able to provide guidance based on your personal health history and any pre-existing conditions you may have.

For most people to get the most of a plant-based diet, maximizing nutrient intake is key even with restrictions on food options.

Keep these two tips in mind to cover your bases.

  • Start taking a daily supplement. Whether they come in the form of drinks or tablets, these products can help you get all the vitamins and minerals that are commonly in meat products. Some examples include omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid and vitamin A.
  • Get well acquainted with sources of protein that aren’t meat. Most people associate protein with steak, chicken and fish, but you have plenty of options. Consider experimenting with recipes that involve ingredients like tofu, beans, mushrooms, chickpeas, nuts, broccoli and spinach.

For more insight into the benefits of a following plant-based diet, check out the clinical nutrition services we offer at Mercy Health.

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