What are the Benefits of a Plant Based Diet?
We are often questioned about the benefits of eating a plant-based diet. There seems to always be some new diet arising claiming this is the best way to eat. This brings a lot of confusion about what are the best foods to eat. However, like Mr. Herbert M. Shelton said, a simple fact to be accepted is, “Although man has included meat in his diet for thousands of years, his anatomy and physiology, and the chemistry of his digestive juices, are still unmistakably those of a frugivorous animal.”
We know that in nature, form determines function. Our human anatomy and physiology are that of an herbivore/ frugivore. Hence, we are designed to eat plants. For the simple fact that we are humans, we know that there is a benefit from eating a plant-based diet. But upbringing and culture lead us away from nature and into flesh eating habits. And habits are not easy to break. So probably just saying that humans are not meant to eat flesh is not enough. Nature’s perfect design is not enough. We must present more evidence of the benefits of eating a plant-based diet.
One of the benefits of being on a plant-based diet means you are consuming your food on the low end of the food chain, so it provides more vital energy and has a lower risk for contaminants.
The sun is the main source of energy on planet Earth. Plants receive their energy directly from the sun and can synthesize their own food from simple organic substances. They require only minerals as nutrients for growth, use carbon dioxide as a source of carbon and simple inorganic nitrogen as a nitrogen source. Plants including algae and photosynthesizing bacteria are therefore the primary producers in the food chain.
Continuing up the food chain, we have primary consumers, which are organisms that feed on primary producers like plants. Organisms of this type make up the second level and are usually herbivores that feed on plants (there are other feeding strategies, like frugivores and folivores).
As we consume foods further up the food chain, there are two important things that happen: 1) vital energy provided by the food decreases, because plants are the first and direct converter of the immense energy of the sun into food (for example – when we eat the animals that eat the plants instead of just eating the plants); 2) toxicity builds up, because there are toxicants in the environment and as one level in the food chain consumes the next level, the more likely toxicants will be consumed and in increasing amounts. (for example – microorganism in the ocean are consumed by tiny fish, tiny fish are consumed by bigger fish, bigger fish are consumed by even larger fish, each one feeding in water that contains toxicants and then humans consume the larger fish).
Where in the food chain do you want to be?
What are 3 additional benefits of a plant-based diet?
Its ability to 1) maintain healthy pH levels; 2) support renewal and repair of tissues and cell; and 3) provide overall optimal health for humans.
Plant based diets are loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Therefore, plants are rich in substances essential for the repair and renewal of cells and have a much smaller ratio of harmful substances than animals.
The ingestion of plants also promotes a blood pH level that is required for optimal functioning of the human body as well as providing an ideal amino acid ratio necessary to meet all metabolic requirements.
Purines are found in high concentration in animal muscle and organs. In general, plant-based diets are low in purines and although a moderate amount can be found in asparagus, cauliflower, spinach, mushrooms, and some other vegetables, there is not enough to result in the formation of uric-acid crystals, which settle into joints and lead to an extremely painful condition known as “gout”. Additionally, a plant-based diet will keep the blood pH in an alkaline state. This is quite relevant since at a blood pH of 7.4, ninety eight percent (98%) of uric acid will exist in its salt form as sodium-urate, which does not form crystals and settle in the joints.
The amino acids found in plant proteins are better suited for non-predator animals (like humans), because animal-based proteins have high amounts of amino acids containing sulfur. When these amino acids are metabolized, sulfuric acid is produced, which puts a tremendous strain on the body’s biochemical buffering systems, resulting in the continual loss of calcium from the bones which can lead to osteoporosis.
Can a plant-based diet reduce the risk of chronic illness?
Another benefit of being on a plant-based diet is the reduced risk for chronic illness.
Research shows that mammals with the anatomy and physiology of a plant eater develop pathological conditions, such as cancer and heart disease, when their diet is based on animal foods. Epidemiological studies found that populations predominantly plant based have lower rates of chronic illnesses, especially heart disease and cancer. Plants contain no saturated fat and animal cholesterol, which have been unequivocally implicated in the development of a diversity of illnesses.
On the other hand, plant-based diets are associated with higher levels of short-chain fatty acids in the gut, which research suggests lowers the risk of heart disease, inflammatory diseases, and type 2 diabetes. Consuming, plant-based diets offer protection and reduces the risk of:
• Coronary heart disease
• Metabolic syndrome
• Cardiovascular mortality
• High cholesterol
• Type-2 diabetes
• Digestive disorders
Plant-based diets are beneficial in terms of nutrient, phytochemical and fiber content.
Plants are rich in fiber while animal foods have zero fiber. Carcinogens, such as estrogens, metabolic products of bile acids and other toxins, internally produced by the body or consumed, are readily absorbed, and diluted by the fiber found in plant foods. Fiber is also essential for a balanced and healthy gut microbiome.
A healthy plant-based diet is plentiful in anti-inflammatory foods that help stop the progression of chronic disease by supplying nutrients that fight oxidative stress and prevent free radical damage. This include antioxidants and phytonutrients, essential vitamins such as vitamin C, E and A, trace minerals, electrolytes, and essential fatty acids.
Antioxidants are abundantly present in plants and act to neutralize cancer-producing chemicals that form in the body, as well as block the conversion of nitrates to cancer-causing nitrosamines in the stomach.
Phytonutrients or phytochemicals present in plants are cancer-fighting substances that help prevent and treat not just cancer but many degenerative illnesses and help maintain optimum function of body’s systems. These cancer fighting substances include substances like carotenoids, lutein, zeaxanthin, quercetin, kaempferol (flavonols), dithiolthiones, isothiocyanates, glucarates, coumarins and other phenolic compounds, terpenes and organosulfides.
For example, carotenoids (pigments responsible for the dark colors in fruits and vegetables) are protective against lung, bladder, mouth, larynx, esophageal, breast, and other cancers. Brassica vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower contain compounds such flavones, indoles and isothiocyanates which are powerful in preventing and eliminating cancer once it has developed (particularly important in breast and other hormonally related cancers). Anthocyanins in berries help protect vision and flavonoids in apples help control inflammation.
More benefits of plant-based diets? They also improve brain, heart, and skin health, help with weight control, and weight loss, and increase longevity. From an environmental point of view, going plant based has the potential to significantly reduce our carbon footprint, allowing for a way of life that is more sustainable and protective of our planet, ourselves, and our grandchildren.
Nature, common sense, and scientific research support and corroborate the vast benefits of a plant-based diet.
It is time to change the way we eat!
Vanessa Pinto graduated with a degree in Biology and Masters in Ecology from Lisbon University. After graduating, she underwent a series of professional and personal growth experiences, including being an officer in the Portuguese Army, working in countries as diverse as Iceland and Costa Rica. Vanessa became certified as a Yoga and Meditation teacher in rural India.
Being a compassionate person by nature, Vanessa is able to bring her connectedness when working with others while enhancing the importance and practicality of a pragmatic evidence-based approach to facilitating lasting and permanent change. Vanessa is a certified health coach whose specialties are nutrition, exercise, and mind/ body connection. She works both in Portugal, Thailand and USA, where she develops her work closely with people diagnosed with cancer, mainly in the areas of nutrition, movement and health education.