Plant-based diets have been found to provide a number of health benefits and, as more research emerges, we are likely to see even more people choose to give up meat altogether.
Recent studies have revealed that a vegan or vegetarian diet may help to keep your brain and heart healthy, decrease the risk of serious disease, support weight loss and keep you living healthier for longer. Here, we explore five healthy reasons for reducing your meat intake and going herbivore.
#1 It can help to lower your blood pressure
Around 1 in 3 adults in the UK has high blood pressure, or hypertension (1). Although the symptoms are often mild, if noticed at all, it places extra strain on the blood vessels, heart and key organs such as the heart, brain and kidneys. Individuals with hypertension are at serious risk of heart attacks or strokes.
However, recent research has shown that adopting a plant-based diet can reduce blood pressure, thereby decreasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and type II diabetes. A 2016 study in the Journal of Hypertension found that vegetarians had a 34 per cent lower risk of developing high blood pressure than those regularly eating meat (2).
#2 It is proven to support healthy weight loss
Many people notice that vegetarians and vegans tend to be thinner and have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than their meat-eating counterparts. This is largely because plant-based diets have a natural tendency to be lower in calories, without the feeling of being constantly hungry, as with alternative diets and weight-loss plans. Whole grains and vegetables tend to be digested more slowly, while fruit contains complex sugars and fibre, which help you to feel fuller for longer.
One study found that a vegan diet helped participants to lose 9.3 lbs (4.2 kg) more than a control diet over 18 weeks and vegan/vegetarian participants lost significantly more weight at six months than their omnivorous counterparts (3). However, it is important that you follow a healthy plant-based diet, avoiding nutrient-poor fast-food options where possible. Base your diet around whole plants and fortified foods, and pay attention to what your body needs. You may benefit from supplements such as multivitamins, iron or B12, but do ask your doctor for advice if you’re unsure.
#3 It can decrease the risk of serious illnesses
Due to the nutrient-rich nature of plant-based diets, it seems obvious that they would help to protect the body from serious diseases, even cancer. Several studies reveal that plant-based diets tend to be lower in sugar, while providing more fibre and antioxidants, and being richer in potassium, magnesium, folates and essential vitamins.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around one-third of all cancers can be prevented by changes in lifestyle, with diet being a key factor. Although the exact reasons are not yet clear, vegans may benefit from a 15% lower risk of developing or dying from cancer (4).
There is also a well-known link between diet and type II diabetes, with weight being a major risk factor in the body’s resistance to insulin. A high-quality plant-based diet can reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes by up to 34 per cent (5), as well as encouraging lower cholesterol, and increased kidney function.
#4 It keeps your heart healthy
There’s a very good reason that we’re told to eat our five-a-day: eating fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes (peas, beans and grains) and fibre is an effective way to lower the risk of heart disease. A 2014 study found that vegans may have up to a 42% lower risk of dying from heart disease than non-vegans and that plant-based diets offer significant protection against cardiovascular diseases (6).
As well as lowering blood pressure, vegan diets are particularly effective in lowering cholesterol, which has a significant effect on overall heart health. Legumes, nuts and whole grains, usually consumed as part of a healthy vegan diet, are all highly effective in combating excess cholesterol. In fact, eating three servings of whole grains daily can result in a 20% lower risk of heart disease and stroke (7).
#5 It can increase your brain activity
Contrary to opinions that a plant-based diet lacks nutrients vital for brain health, a fortified vegan diet can actually promote healthy brain activity. As explained above, plant-based diets can help to reduce hypertension, which is a known factor in causing mild cognitive impairment and is a major risk factor for dementia.
A memory and ageing study published in 2016, found that green, leafy vegetables had a profound effect on cognitive function and nutrients such as folate, lutein, vitamin E, nitrates, and B-carotene, all found in green vegetables were related to better brainpower (8).
Vitamin B6, another nutrient important to cognitive function is widespread in healthy plant-based diets. Sources include pistachios, fortified cereal and chickpeas. While vitamin B12 is often lacking in vegan and vegetarian diets, this can be rectified with supplements. Again, your doctor can advise you on the best supplements to take.
Try a plant-based diet for yourself
All Herbivore products are 100% plant-based and are gluten and dairy-free. This makes them the perfect replacement for your usual meat products. What’s more, they are superior in both texture and flavour to many of our competitors – you may even forget you’re not eating meat! Browse our online shop today and try going Herbivore for a week, a month, or more.