Over the previous episodes of our plant-based nutrition series, we discussed how to practice good nutrition on a plant-based diet. For our final episode, we are diving into how plant-based nutrition influences what matters most – our body and health! It comes without surprise that good nutrition habits play an important and powerful role in achieving good overall health but if you are wondering how plant-based nutrition is related to body function and health, then this blog post is for you!
Weight Management and Weight Loss
Much of the evidence consistently suggests that plant-based diets are an effective option for preventing and treating obesity . In fact, some people actually adopt a plant-based diet for weight loss purposes! In accordance with this, one large study also showed that there is a strong positive correlation with meat consumption and obesity .
But since there are many different types of plant-based diets, those who choose to adopt this dietary lifestyle should be aware that generally these promising results are specific to the more popular diets including the whole-foods plant-based, keto and high-carb low fat diets [3,4,5,6]. Whereas, such evidence for some other types of plant-based diets is lacking.
Overall, a large body of research suggests that plant-based diets are helpful for weight loss and weight management!
Cardiometabolic diseases is an umbrella term for a set of conditions that encompass many interconnected diseases such as cardiovascular disease (CVD) and diabetes .
CVD is the leading cause of death in North America and many parts of the world. Type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for developing CVD. So not surprisingly, type 2 diabetes is also associated with a high risk of mortality . Luckily, many modifiable risk factors exist for the prevention of CVD and type 2 diabetes. One of these include changing your diet!
In particular, eating a plant-based diet has been associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and improved blood pressure compared to a typical western diet. This is a consistent finding across several large well-controlled research studies [7,9]!
It is generally believed that these beneficial outcomes are supposedly due to the dietary components of a whole-foods plant-based diet – the presence of legumes, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts in the diet, and the avoidance of refined grains and animal products .
Adding to this, a meta-analysis conducted to summarize evidence from multiple studies, showed that eating more fruits and veggies is associated with lower risk of stroke! Simply increasing your intake of fruits and veggies by just 200 grams every day was found to decrease the risk of stroke by 32% and 11%, respectively .
Another well-documented health benefit of eating a plant-based diet is their ability to ease Inflammation.
Inflammation (or swelling) is your immune system’s natural way of healing and protecting itself from harmful triggers. This is a crucial and functional response of our body keeping us safe and healthy. But when this process is prolonged, it can be damaging and result in additional problems including chronic disease.
Fortunately, diet is a powerful tool that can influence inflammatory responses in the body. In particular, plant-based diets are linked to reduced inflammation! Multiple studies confirm that those who adopt diets higher in fruits and veggies have consistently lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) and other pro-inflammatory markers, compared to Western or meat-based diets !
Overall, the evidence suggests that plant-based diets have potential anti-inflammatory properties [11,12]. This is important since inflammation is a root cause of many long-term diseases including heart disease and cancer.
Gut health and the human microbiota has evolved into a popular topic of interest due to its wide implications in health and disease. The gut microbiota refers to the microorganisms that live inside your intestines. Some of these are labeled as “good” bacteria, as they are beneficial to your health, while others are “bad”. Importantly, the diversity of your gut microbiota also influences health, where a higher bacterial diversity is the key to good health . So, a more diverse gut microbiota means greater resilience!
Not surprisingly, what you eat plays a huge role on the health of your gut! Recent research suggests a plant-based diet helps promote a healthy and balanced gut microbiome. Evidence shows that eating plenty of plants and plant-based foods (especially those high in fiber) appear to help increase the diversity of the bacteria in your gut [12,13]!
So go ahead and fuel your body with fibre-rich plant-based foods – your gut will thank you!
Other Potential Health Benefits
Here are a few more potential, but less-established, health benefits of associated with eating a plant-based diet:
Interestingly, there is some new evidence to show that eating more fruits and vegetables is linked to lower risk of cognitive impairment and dementia [14,15]. Research shows that berries, nuts, seeds, leafy greens and whole grains are especially valuable, whereas saturated and trans fats in dairy, meat and fried foods increase the risk of cognitive decline .
An emerging body of evidence points to the protective role of eating fruits, veggies and plant constituents such as fiber and antioxidants, against the risk of several types of cancer including breast, prostate, colorectal and gastrointestinal. On the other hand, red meat consumption is linked to a higher risk of cancer [17,18].
Some research also shows that healthy plant-based diets can help you live longer ! One long-term study showed that adherence to a healthy plant-based diet was linked to an 11% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and 19% lower risk of death from all cause. .
But, while the preliminary research for the beneficial effect of plant-based eating on brain function, risk of cancer and all-cause mortality is promising, more research in this area is required to fully understand the exact role and underlying mechanisms of plant-based diets.
Overall, there is plenty of evidence in favour of the many health benefits of adopting a plant-based diet!
- Turner-McGrievy, G., Mandes, T., & Crimarco, A. (2017). A plant-based diet for overweight and obesity prevention and treatment. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology: JGC, 14(5), 369–374. doi: 10.11909/j.issn.1671-5411.2017.05.002
- Wang, Y., & Beydoun, M. A. (2009). Meat consumption is associated with obesity and central obesity among US adults. International Journal of Obesity, 33(6), 621–628. https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2009.45
- Greger, M. (2020). A Whole Food Plant-Based Diet Is Effective for Weight Loss: The Evidence. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 14(5), 500–510. doi: 10.1177/1559827620912400
- Wright, N., Wilson, L., Smith, M., Duncan, B., & McHugh, P. (2017). The BROAD study: A randomised controlled trial using a whole food plant-based diet in the community for obesity, ischaemic heart disease or diabetes. Nutrition & Diabetes, 7(3), e256. doi: 10.1038/nutd.2017.3
- Gershuni, V. M., Yan, S. L., & Medici, V. (2018). Nutritional Ketosis for Weight Management and Reversal of Metabolic Syndrome. Current Nutrition Reports, 7(3), 97–106. doi: 10.1007/s13668-018-0235-0
- Kahleova, H., Dort, S., Holubkov, R., & Barnard, N. D. (2018). A Plant-Based High-Carbohydrate, Low-Fat Diet in Overweight Individuals in a 16-Week Randomized Clinical Trial: The Role of Carbohydrates. Nutrients, 10(9), 1302. doi: 10.3390/nu10091302
- Kahleova, H., Levin, S., & Barnard, N. (2017). Cardio-Metabolic Benefits of Plant-Based Diets. Nutrients, 9(8), 848. doi:10.3390/nu9080848
- World Health Organization. 2018. NCD Mortality and Morbidity. WHO Global Health Observatory (GHO) data. https://www.who.int/gho/ncd/mortality_morbidity/en/
- McMacken, M., & Shah, S. (2017). A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology: JGC, 14(5), 342–354. doi: 10.11909/j.issn.1671-5411.2017.05.009
- Hu, D., Huang, J., Wang, Y., Zhang, D., & Qu, Y. (2014). Fruits and vegetables consumption and risk of stroke: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Stroke, 45(6), 1613–1619. https://doi.org/10.1161/STROKEAHA.114.004836
- Watzl B. (2008). Anti-inflammatory effects of plant-based foods and of their constituents. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, 78(6), 293–298. doi:10.1024/0300-98220.127.116.113
- Chiba, M., Ishii, H., & Komatsu, M. (2019). Recommendation of plant-based diets for inflammatory bowel disease. Translational Pediatrics, 8(1), 23–27. doi:10.21037/tp.2018.12.02
- Tomova, A., Bukovsky, I., Rembert, E., Yonas, W., Alwarith, J., Barnard, N. D., & Kahleova, H. (2019). The Effects of Vegetarian and Vegan Diets on Gut Microbiota. Frontiers in Nutrition, 6, 47. doi:10.3389/fnut.2019.00047
- Jiang, X., Huang, J., Song, D., Deng, R., Wei, J., & Zhang, Z. (2017). Increased Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables Is Related to a Reduced Risk of Cognitive Impairment and Dementia: Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 9, 18. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2017.00018
- Medawar, E., Huhn, S., Villringer, A., & Witte, V.A. (2019). The effects of plant-based diets on the body and the brain: a systematic review. Translational Psychiatry, 9(226). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0552-0
- Gómez-Pinilla F. (2008). Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 9(7), 568–578.
- Lanou, A. J., & Svenson, B. (2010). Reduced cancer risk in vegetarians: an analysis of recent reports. Cancer Management and Research, 3, 1–8. doi:10.2147/CMR.S6910
- Madigan M, Karhu E. The role of plant-based nutrition in cancer prevention. Journal of Unexplored Medical Data, 3, 9. doi:10.20517/2572-8180.2018.05
- Kim, H., Caulfield, L. E., & Rebholz, C. M. (2018). Healthy Plant-Based Diets Are Associated with Lower Risk of All-Cause Mortality in US Adults. The Journal of nutrition, 148(4), 624–631. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxy019
- Kim, H., Caulfield, L. E., Garcia-Larsen, V., Steffen, L. M., Coresh, J., & Rebholz, C. M. (2019). Plant-Based Diets Are Associated With a Lower Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Disease, Cardiovascular Disease Mortality, and All-Cause Mortality in a General Population of Middle-Aged Adults. Journal of the American Heart Association, 8(16), e012865. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.119.012865