Why eat a plant based diet

Top 5 Reasons To Go Plant-Based

Over the years various diets have been tested, although there is no magic bullet to human health a plant- based diet seems to get pretty close.

As we humans moved from a hunter-gather society to a more stationary people living in villages, cities, and towns we have become more dependent on the mass production of food and agriculture. with the passing of the decades and a change in working roles, diets also shifted to accommodate the fast pace of life and provide a “quick fix” when needed.

So what are the main benefits of eating plant- based and why should we all move towards a more plant based diet? below i will mention the top 5 reasons I think we should all go plant based:

1. Plant based diets help to fight disease

In my opinion that is a great thing! Consuming plant food might help reduce the risk of disease and promote longevity, the reason for this is that plant foods contain exclusively two important nutrients: fiber and phytonutrients.

Let’s start off with Fiber. This nutrient can be found in various plant foods, the reason why its so important is that it provides powerful protection of the internal organs such as the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and immune systems. Fiber is usually found in two forms Soluble and Insoluble Fiber.

  • insoluble fiber or roughage is great as it can help bulk up stool and reduce constipation while soluble fiber has a variety of health benefits like reducing cholesterol and regulating blood glucose levels. [1]

The other major component in plants (which are not found in animal products) are phytonutrients (like polyphenols), These consist of a vast class of thousands of compounds including glucosinolates, carotenoids, and flavonoids, phytonutrients are great as they work hand in hand to help reduce inflammation and oxidation, providing protection from disease initiation and progression.

2. Reduce overall aging and living longer

The effect of plant-based diet on aging

The effect of diet on aging

Plant-based diets seem to be an easy way of calorie restriction that may positively impact a variety of metabolic pathways. When put under investigation the potential health benefits in humans were very positive. [2]

in studies, it has been shown that eating a more plant-based diet and reducing the total calories consumed helped reduce certain biological markers that are associated to aging, these included: growth hormone (GH) and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR). the reason for these to being linked with aging is that they tend to promoted chronic inflammation, and aging in itself is considered as a state of chronic inflammation that over time causes damage and changes leading to cell damage and lower repair. Eating more plants was shown however the lower these markers and also the consumption of less overall calories also leads to the activation of sirtuins and adenosine monophosphate kinase (AMPK) which tend to improve metabolism and glucose control. [3]

3. Reducing risk of cancer

So what happens if we put cancer on a plant-based diet?

The effect of a plant-based diet on cancer (smoking)

smoking and the effects of diet on cancer risk

Looking at the risk of cancer like prostate, bowel and breast cancer (common cancers affecting men and women) and diet intake a correlation showed the benefits of plant based whole food diet on the overall risk.[4] So how does diet really affect overall risk of cancer? and why?

Studies have shown that certain chemicals in food such as heterocyclic amines, which are found mostly in cooked meat are carcinogens in the mammary gland and colon of rodents. Several dietary constituents induce the death of these “bad cells”, which is one of the ways our body helps to protect its self against mechanisms that induce or promote cancer. Antioxidants that are rich in Plant-based food may suppress spontaneous mutations; and dietary factors might influence the cell’s ability to proliferate and the overall mutation rates in DNA (like DNA methylation). [4]

an example is smoking; Smoking is the single most important cause of lung cancer. It was shown that various patients who developed lung cancer reported eating less fruit and vegetables than their healthy counterparts. although this effect was minor (as smoking is still a very strong carcinogen) the effect was much less than the causative effect of smoking, the calculated relative risk (RR), which is the risk of developing a disease in the case of low fruit consumers was about 1.2, while the risk was 16-fold difference was observed within the smoking group. therefore consuming fruits and veggies showed a lower risk of cancer compared to non-vegetable eaters. B-carotine a chemical found in sweet potato, carrots and green leafy veggies was shown to have a protective effect on the risk of cancer in smokers, however supplementation (artificial B-carotine) was shown to increase the risk of cancer rather than reduce it!! [5]

4. Plant based diets can improve mental health

Benefits of eating a Plant-based diet

Plant based diet on mental health. Images from commons.wikimedia.org, “Brain human sagittal section” by Lynch 2006 and “Complete GI tract” by Häggström 2008, “Anatomy Figure Vector Clipart” by http://moziru.com

The reason why plants might be beneficial to our brain is macronutrient composition, plant-based diets feature different types of fatty acids (mono- and poly-unsaturated versus saturated and trans found mostly in meat and animal products) and complex sugars (complex and unrefined versus simple and refined sugar). These might both be important players for mediating beneficial health and promoting healthy minds.

A high fiber intake from legumes, grains, vegetables and fruits is a prominent feature of plant-based diets[6], which could induce beneficial metabolic processes like increasing the carbohydrate fermentation and improving the microbiome status. Changes within our gut bacteria has been shown to lead to an overall improved metabolism that might be associated to the weight loss that is seen in plant-based eaters. Also, the type of bacteria living in the gut was converted as the people changed diet. Vegans and omnivores where found to have different microorganisms living in their systems [6]

Especially interesting is the fact that Plant-based diets are show a link to a specific microbial profile, with a vegan profile being most different from an omnivore, namely less pathobionts where present in the vegan group and more protective bacterial species might be the reason for improved lipid metabolism and a reduced level of intestinal inflammation in vegans.

A recent study has shown that microbial composition influences cerebral amyloidogenesis (amyloid deposits) in a mouse model for Alzheimer’s disease7. These mouse models are of interest as they show a probable link between the gut microbiome and brain metabolism.

Diets such as the Mediterranean diet or DASH diet which are mostly plant-focused, show a protective effect on cardiovascular and brain health in the aging population. Several attempts have been made to clarify potential underlying mechanisms, for example using supplementary plant polyphenols, fish/fish-oil consumption or whole dietary pattern change. The overall findings of this paragraph add to the evidence that microbial diversity may be associated with brain health, although underlying mechanisms and candidate signaling molecules remain unknown.[6]

based on these studies there is a strong amount of evidence that eating more plants and fruits can help improve our mental health possibly via changes within our gut. the changes in the gut bacteria may lead to improved metabolism and microbial species. the changes in the gut by switching over to plant-based diet can have improved effect on brain function, neuron health and memory formation [7, 8]

5.Improved athletic performance

plant-based diet on athletic performance

Athletic performance might be improved by diet

Studies point to the fact that plant based diets might improved overall exercise tolerance and performance in endurance training. Even though exercise is beneficial, excessive exercise might impact health leading to increased risk of atherosclerosis and myocardial damage. Plant based diets might help mitigate the damage by reducing the oxidative stress induced by excessive prolonged exercise. addition of more plants to the diet had a beneficial effect on the overall levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, plasma lipid oxidation and protection of heart muscle. Plant based diets might indeed aid in performance advantage, and in my opinion that is great news!

Because plants have high levels of plant nutrients (only found in plant sources) they help improve overall performance by:

  • Reducing oxidative stress
  • Improving oxygenation and blood flow
  • Facilitating the stores of glycogen
  • Improving body mass
  • Reducing inflammation

these factors all lead to improved cardiovascular health, improved performance and reduced recovery time. Changing over to a plant-based diet might be a game-changer for athletes looking to improve their outcomes.[8]

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