It is never too late to switch to a vegan diet and to reap the many rewards it can provide. While some approaches to eating have come and gone (think of the Atkins diet in particular), plant-based diets have continued to gain in popularity and proven efficacy. In this article, we will consider some of the most compelling reasons to switch to a plant-based diet.
Halting the progression or prevention of serious disease
It may seem like a bold claim, and clearly eating plant-based food is not a magical cure-all, but it is heavily correlated with halting the progression and even reversal of serious disease, including hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes type 2.
Studies have shown that due to the reduction in inflammation in the endothelial lining of blood vessels associated with eating a whole food planted-based diet, increased consumption of foods which relax blood vessels (notably leafy greens) and boost antioxidants, conditions such as heart disease and peripheral artery disease can be slowed, stopped, and even reversed. Eating this way is also proven to prevent and treat type 2 diabetes, with one research article entitled, ‘a plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes’, stating, “Multiple potential mechanisms underlie the benefits of a plant-based diet in ameliorating insulin resistance, including promotion of a healthy body weight, increases in fibre and phytonutrients, food-microbiome interactions, and decreases in saturated fat, advanced glycation endproducts, nitrosamines, and heme iron.”
Boosting mental health
Consuming a plant-based diet is also shown to be highly effective in improving mental health. One study in the British Journal of Psychiatry involving 3,486 people of middle age found that ‘whole foods’ (those heavily loaded by vegetables, fruits and fish), are protective against depression. Such effects are believed to occur because plant-derived foods:
- are high in antioxidants and phytochemicals, which help repair damage and decrease inflammation in brain cells.
- can help restore balance to neurotransmitters – it is believed that many people with depression have high levels of an enzyme called monoamine oxidase (MAO) which breaks down serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine; essential for the regulation of mood. The phytochemical quercetin (high in foods such as apples, kale, berries, grapes, onion, and green tea), found only in plant foods, which acts rather like a natural anti-depressant, acts to prevent the production of MAO.
- Do not contain arachidonic acid, a type of fat found only in animals. The consumption of animal products high in arachidonic acid (e.g. chicken and eggs), have a corresponding effect of increasing general inflammation, which increases anxiety, stress, hopelessness, and depression.
In this article, we have only touched the tip of the iceberg of the potential benefits of eating a plant-based diet. The volume of independent gold-standard research in this area is now providing overwhelming evidence of the efficacy of eating a whole food plant-based diet, and, crucially, is helping to explain why this is the case. Remember, if you are ever in doubt as to the best decisions to make for your own health and wellbeing, look to the science.