A Vegan Diet Is Richer in Certain Nutrients
A funny thing happens when you stop prioritizing meat as the main dish for your meals. You find a major shift in the types of foods you’re eating. They’re probably more colorful. They’re probably healthier. And they’re probably filled with the important vitamins and minerals your body is craving. Foods like beans, rice, fruits and vegetables are some of nature’s best medicines. Centering your meals around something other than meat forces you to be more aware of what goes on your plate.
A vegan diet intentionally focuses on whole foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds. These nutrient-dense foods are less processed, have fewer saturated fats, and contain more fiber.
On a meat-free diet, you can get all of the protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals you need for a healthy life without consuming eggs, meat, dairy, or any animal-based foods. It might be hard to imagine a life without meat. But when you weigh the pros and cons of starting a plant-based diet, it might just be worth it.
People might worry that starting a vegan diet means their body won’t get all of the necessary protein and other essentials. But it is easier than you think. Interestingly, vegetarians and vegans often eat foods with higher amounts of fiber and phytonutrients, which are important for a healthy diet. Focusing on meatless meals means they’re filling their plate with healthy, whole foods that are packed with essential nutrients.
They include things like:
Protein: Getting enough protein in your diet is important for helping your body repair and make new cells. There are other ways to beef up your diet without meat, dairy or eggs. Other protein-rich foods include beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Iron: Iron helps with energy levels, focus, and gastrointestinal processes. Tofu, beans, nuts, spinach, and kale contain excellent levels of iron.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is important for immunity and healthy skin. Oranges, spinach, red peppers, and strawberries are full of Vitamin C.
Calcium: Calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth. There are other ways to get calcium in your diet besides consuming dairy products. Kale, broccoli, beans, and oranges are packed with calcium.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are great for heart and brain health. Chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans are excellent sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.
It Can Help You Lose Excess Weight
Following a vegetarian diet can have a significant impact on your weight-loss goals. Plant-based diets include unprocessed, whole foods that can help you shed those extra pounds. So ditch the greasy, double cheeseburger and replace it with a plate of grilled veggies and whole-grain rice.
The reason plant-based diets can lead to weight loss is because they typically involve lower-calorie foods and lower-calorie meals. They also promote a higher volume of fiber-filled fruits and vegetables. This means you can eat more and feel full for a longer period of time. Today’s highly processed foods are the complete opposite. They are higher in calories and lower in essential nutrients. And they leave you hungry almost immediately.
Vegan, vegetarian, and other plant-based diets are often considered some of the best weight-loss programs because they focus on whole, healthy foods. They are brimming with health benefits that help you feel full and lose weight.
It Appears to Lower Blood Sugar Levels and Improve Kidney Function
There are massive benefits to eating a plant-based diet. It’s important to eat foods that are filled with all the goodness nature has to offer. We feel better when we eat healthier, and it’s no wonder. We weren’t made to process high levels of sugars and fats. Excess consumption leads to health issues.
When it comes to managing our blood sugar levels and kidney function, our diet is critically important. Vegetarian-friendly foods often contain high levels of fiber, antioxidants, and magnesium, which reduce insulin resistance and help the body process insulin effectively. This is especially important for people at risk for developing type 2 diabetes or who have kidney disease.
In fact, people who eat foods containing animal proteins are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Eating meat can increase inflammation in the body, cause weight gain, and decrease the body’s ability to properly process insulin. This is no good for people who have a higher likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes or kidney-related problems.
However, studies [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466941/] show a plant-based diet can prevent and treat type 2 diabetes as well as slow the effects of kidney disease. Focusing on dietary changes is a great place to start.
A Vegan Diet May Protect Against Certain Cancers
There are over 100 types of cancer, from leukemia to lymphoma, from pancreatic to prostate. And certain cancers target some demographics more than others. Prevention is a critical step in decreasing the number of cases worldwide.
Recently, experts [https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/how-plant-based-food-helps-fight-cancer/art-20457590] suggest about a third of cancer cases could be prevented through diet and nutrition alone. Interestingly, there is a significant increase in cancer rates for meat eaters. In response, nutritionists recommend eating a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
There are lots of health benefits in starting a vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based diet. For example, they emphasize fiber-filled foods, which help the body remove excess hormones and waste that can lead to cancer. Plant-based foods also protect the body’s cells from damage that can cause cancer. Foods that are high in beta-carotene, like carrots, kale, and squash, strengthen the immune system and fight off diseases.
Vegans also tend to maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese often leads to a whole host of health concerns, including cancer. Eating processed meats like hot dogs, sausages, and bacon can lead to a higher risk of cancers, too. In fact, the American Cancer Society [https://www.cancer.org/healthy/eat-healthy-get-active/acs-guidelines-nutrition-physical-activity-cancer-prevention/guidelines.html] recommends decreasing or eliminating your intake of red and processed meats to lower your risk of cancer.
It’s Linked to a Lower Risk of Heart Disease
We can all do something to improve our heart health. Diet and exercise are two of the best ways to support our cardiovascular system.
One of the biggest risk factors of heart disease is an elevated amount of cholesterol. And foods containing saturated fats (typically found in animal products) have a big impact on our cholesterol levels.
Choosing to eat a plant-based diet can have a dramatic effect on lowering your cholesterol. Vegan foods often contain minimal saturated fats and no cholesterol. Eating a plant-based diet also means you’re eating more fiber-rich foods. These foods, like oatmeal, brussel sprouts, beans, and apples, contain soluble fiber that reduces the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream.
New research [https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/less-heart-damaging-inflammation-with-a-vegan-diet] shows a vegan diet is better at decreasing heart-damaging inflammation than the official diet recommended by the National Heart Association. Decreasing the amount of animal-based foods in your diet, especially red meat, can have impressive health benefits.
A Vegan Diet Can Reduce Pain from Arthritis
If you’re suffering from arthritis, a plant-based diet might give you some relief. About a quarter of American adults struggle with pain and swelling in their joints from arthritis. Doctors [https://www.pcrm.org/health-topics/arthritis] believe a vegan diet can improve these painful symptoms.
Foods in a plant-based diet are often full of fiber and low in fat. This combination can decrease inflammation in the body. It’s the inflammation that causes pain for people with arthritis. According to a 2015 study [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25815212/], patients saw significant improvements in their arthritis-related pain after just two weeks of starting a plant-based diet. Just two weeks! This evidence provides hope for people who have been struggling with joint pain for years.
As always, consult a doctor for more specific health information related to your needs. Seek professional medical advice before making changes to your diet.
Written by Aftan Hoffer
I’m a self-proclaimed flexitarian, living in Lancaster, PA with my vegetarian husband and our two picky, omnivore toddlers. We’re also a foster family, so the number of chairs around our dinner table can change from time to time. Meals at our house involve a variety of foods, so everyone has at least one thing they’re excited to eat. No one wants a battle at mealtime.