Eating more plant-based foods is all the rage, but is it really worth the hassle?
Plant-based eating focuses on including foods primarily from plants such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, wholegrains, legumes and beans. There are different versions of plant-based eating. Some people follow a flexitarian diet that includes small amounts meat and fish while focusing mainly on plant-based foods, while others cut out meat but include fish with plant-based foods and are known as pescatarian diets. Vegetarians avoid meat and fish but still include eggs, dairy products and plant-based foods, while vegans cut all animal products.
Health Benefits of Eating a Plant-Based Diet
There is plenty of research that has examined plant-based eating and its benefits. The Mediterranean diet is properly one of the most well-known diets and has a foundation of plant-based fish, as well as small amounts of fish, chicken, eggs, cheese and yoghurt, and even smaller amounts of meat and added sugar.
Research has constantly shown that following a Mediterranean diet is effective in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and overall mortality1. According to 2017 review and meta-analysis, a Mediterranean diet might also offer protection from various cancers including colorectal cancer2, while a 2014 study found that a Mediterranean diet my help prevent type 2 diabetes and improve markers of diabetes in people who already have the condition3.
Vegetarian diets have also been shown to have health benefits with research showing they may help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and various types of cancer4, as well as the risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity5. Compared to meat eaters, people who eat primarily plant-based diets tend to have a lower body mass and lower rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease6.
Like any diet though, the health benefits are dependent on the quality and nutritional adequacy of the diet7. So, it’s important that a plant-based diet contains good quality plant-based protein, carbohydrates and fats and limits the intake of refined carbohydrates, sweetened beverages and confectionery.
7 Simple Ways To Eat More Plants
- Try Meat-Free Mondays: Meat-Free Mondays is initiative that avoids meat products for all of Monday as a small step to reducing our impact on the earth and boosting our health at the same time. It’s an easy strategy to help you eat more plant-based foods each week. For more information, meatfreemondays.com.
- Eat loads more vegetables: At lunch and dinner, fill half your plate with an array of coloured vegetables. For snacks enjoy vegetable sticks with plant-based dips like guacamole, hommous and babaganoush.
- Add more vegetables to your favourite dishes: Grate carrot and zucchini through Bolognese sauce or mix pesto into your scrambled eggs. Add carrot or zucchini to muffins or stir zucchini zoodles through your spaghetti. Swap your hamburger bun with portabello mushrooms for another easy dose of vegetables.
- Add greens to your smoothie: Add a handful of baby spinach or kale to your favourite breakfast cereal. It won’t change the flavour but it will help to boost your vegetable quota for the day.
- Add nuts and seeds to meals: Nuts make a great addition to blanched green vegetables, while seeds help to add crunch to delicious salads. Ground up nuts instead of breadcrumbs can also make a delicious crust for a fish or coating for chicken.
- Enjoy fruit for dessert: Replace ice cream or indulgent desserts with baked apple, berry crumble, peach tart or even a fruit salad. You’ll satisfy your tastebuds and boost your intake of plant-based foods.
- Cook with more herbs: Adding herbs to your meals is a super easy way to increase your intake of plant-based foods and also provides delicious flavours. Think basil through your scrambled eggs, mint tossed through your salad, dill stirred through a risotto and oregano tossed through a pasta sauce.
- Lopez-Garcia E, Rodriguez-Artalejo F, Li TY, Fung TT, Li S, Willett WC, Rimm EB, Hu FB. The Mediterranean-style dietary pattern and mortality among men and women with cardiovascular disease. AJCN 2013 Oct 30;99(1):172-80.
- Schwingshackl L, Schwedhlem C, Galbete C and Hoffman G. Adherence to Mediterranean diet and risk of cancer: an updated systematic review and Meta-analysis. Nutrients 2017 Oct;9(10):1063.
- Esposito K & Giugliano D. Mediterranean Diet and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Metab Res Rev 2014 Mar; 30 Suppl 1:34-40.
- Dinu M, Abbate R, Gensini G, et al. Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: a systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 2017;57(17):3640-3649.
- Medawar E, Huhn S, Villringer A & White A. The effects of plant-based diets on the body and the brain: a systematic review. Transl Psychiatry 2019;9;226.
- Tuso P. Nutritional update for physicians: plant-based diets. Perm J 2013 Spring:17(2):61-66.
- Satija A, Bhupathiraju S, Spiegelman D et al. Healthful and unhealthy plant-based diets and risk of coronary heart disease in US adults. J Am Coll Cardiol2017 Jul 25;709(4):411-422.