By Dr. Don Grant
There are lots of reasons why people go vegan, with many choosing to adopt a plant-based diet for ethical or environmental reasons.
But there are also numerous health benefits of a vegan diet too. Removing meat and processed foods from our diet and replacing them with natural ingredients and produce can bring a variety of advantages for our bodies.
Here are just a few of the many ways a plant-based diet can help you lead a healthier life.
For lots of people, one of the most attractive reasons for adopting a vegan diet is weight loss.
Many vegans report a noticeable change in weight after adopting a plant-based diet, and the evidence is there to support this too. It’s important to keep in mind that not all plant-based diets result in weight loss as it greatly depends on how balanced one’s diet is because a vegan diet can also be unhealthy if not done right. One study found that a vegan diet low in fat helped test subjects lose 9.3 pounds over an 18-week period.
This weight loss can be attributed to a number of factors.
For starters, most vegan diets include plenty of fruits and vegetables. These are naturally low in calories and fat, which over time can help individuals gradually lose weight.
But weight loss through a plant-based diet goes beyond simply eating more lower-calorie foods.
A vegan diet is also naturally high in dietary fiber. There are numerous benefits to fiber which I’ll go into later, but it is particularly helpful for weight loss.
Fiber aids with satiety, essentially helping us feel fuller for longer. This helps make us more aware of our body’s hunger levels, in turn preventing us from overeating or snacking between meals.
The relationship between diet and type 2 diabetes is well-established. Increased weight, blood pressure, and sugar intake can all increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes.
Weight is a significant factor in this. Higher levels of fatty tissue increase the body’s resistance to insulin, making them more at risk of type 2 diabetes.
As outlined above, a vegan diet aids with weight loss, thus helping prevent diabetes in this quarter.
But beyond this, followers of a plant-based diet also typically have lower blood sugar levels and an increased sensitivity to insulin, both key factors that mitigate the onset of type 2 diabetes.
This can be attributed to, at least partially, the fact that plant-based diets are typically rich in wholefoods with a lower Glycemic Index (GI) and high levels of fiber. Wholegrain foods such as oatmeal or brown rice also slow digestion, moderating blood sugar levels at the same time.
While it’s not essential for sufferers of type 2 diabetes, there is evidence to suggest that following a plant-based diet can help you manage and control the condition.
Our diets are notoriously difficult low in fiber. While we should consume at least 25g of fiber per day, the average person’s diet falls far short of that.
As I mentioned earlier, fiber is an effective aid for weight loss, increasing satiety and boosting levels of healthy gut bacteria.
But beyond that, fiber is also essential for preventing a number of health conditions.
Diets with high levels of fiber are often associated with a reduced risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer, and heart disease, amongst others.
Vegan diets are often naturally high in fiber, generally on account of the increased consumption of whole grains and legumes. These are rich in fiber, and often act as meat alternatives in replacements in meals.
As a result, it becomes easier to increase your fiber intake through small tweaks to your original diet.
There is growing evidence to suggest that a plant-based diet is good for your heart too. Followers of a vegan diet often display lower rates of heart disease across the board.
Plant-based diets typically contain plenty of natural foods, particularly fruits, vegetables, legumes, and the aforementioned wholegrains.
These foods are rich in heart-protective nutrients such as potassium, antioxidants, and plant sterols. Nutrients like these can help lower your chances of developing heart disease and related conditions.
Cancer rates amongst the general populace are thought to be on the increase, in part due to the lifestyle changes brought about by modern life. Sedentary desk jobs, remote work leading to reduced activity, and polluted cities all play a part in this.
Naturally, diet is a significant factor here too. Red meat, junk food, and processed ready meals are all contributing factors to various forms of cancer.
It should come as no surprise then that a plant-based diet may reduce the development of certain kinds of cancer. Whole, natural foods such as fruit, vegetables, and legumes are, by their nature, free from artificial, cancer-causing elements.
Combined with the removal of red or processed meat from your diet, this can significantly mitigate the risk of developing some cancers as a result.
The points above are just a few potential benefits afforded when adopting a plant-based diet. It should go without saying that these benefits are best seen when combined with other lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, and exercising regularly.
But by following a balanced diet rich in whole and natural foods and making positive lifestyle changes, you can enjoy a variety of health benefits for your body.
Dr Don Grant (MB, ChB, DRCOG, MRCGP, Dip.orth.med) is the clinical lead at The Independent Pharmacy. Dr Grant has extensive clinical experience as a GP, and is responsible for clinically overseeing the online pharmacy service.