Three reasons to eat more plant based foods

Author: Nicole Saliba, Accredited Practising Dietitian   Date Posted:7 July 2019 


So you've herad about a plant-based diet, let's talk about why it's a good idea...

Three reasons to eat more plant-based 

Plant-based diets are one of the biggest health trends for 2019 and rightly so. It’s no secret that eating fresh fruits and vegetables will benefit our health, however it is common for most of us to forget about our fruits and vegetables and consume large amounts of processed foods and animal products such as meat. In Australia less than 4% of Australian adults and 0.5% of Australian kids are meeting the recommended serves of fruits, vegetables and legumes. 

So what’s a plant-based diet? 

Plant-based diets don’t necessarily mean following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet and avoiding all foods that come from animals such as meat, eggs and cheese. A whole-food, plant-based diet is simply a diet rich in foods that come from plants such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrain breads and cereals and nuts and seeds. Plant-based diets can still contain smaller amounts of lean meat, eggs, seafood and dairy products if you would like. 

What are the benefits of following a plant-based diet? 

1. Plant-based diets reduce your risk of chronic lifestyle diseases 

The most important benefit of following a plant-based diet is that they help protect against many of the chronic lifestyle diseases and health concerns that we face today. Eating a plant-based diet has been shown to reduce the risk of: 

- Early death - Some types of cancers including bowel cancer - High cholesterol - High blood pressure - Stroke - Heart disease and - Type two diabetes 

It is believed that a plant-based diet protects against these conditions as they provide high amounts of fibre, poly and monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which work together to protect our body from damage. 

2. Plant-based diets improve our mood 

Mental disorders, especially depression and anxiety are on the rise worldwide. Almost 1 in 2 Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. There is a strong link between the quality of people’s diets and their risk of mental disorders. Better quality diets are consistently associated with a reduced risk for depression. Unhealthy dietary patterns high in processed foods, red meat, processed meat, added sugars, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat and sodium and low in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, fibre, omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids are associated with an increased risk for depression and often also anxiety. 

Eating a plant-based diet rich in wholegrains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds has been shown to reduce the risk of developing depression by 30-50%. Eating more plant-based foods can have a positive effect on mood and mental health by calming down inflammation in the body and improving our gut health. 80-90% of our serotonin or our happy hormone is made in our gut so it makes sense that eating foods which improve our gut health will improve our mood. 

3. Plant-based diets are better for our gut health 

Typical western diets which are high in processed foods, red meat, animal protein, salt and added sugar and low in fruits, vegetables and wholegrains are harmful for our gut health and long-term health. On the other hand plant-based diets which contain lots of VARIETY are the healthiest types of diets for our gut health. 

One such reason is that plant-based diets are richer in fibre. Fibre is the part of plants that our body can’t digest or break down. This means they can travel through our digestive system indigested until they reach our large bowel. In our large bowel they are broken down by the healthy bacteria that live in our gut. When they are broken down special chemicals are produced which help to 

- Feed other healthy gut bacteria - Strengthen the protective lining in our gut which keep harmful bacteria away - Reduce inflammation in the body 

People with healthier guts live longer, are more likely to be a healthy weight and are less likely to suffer with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, bowel cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. 

Take home message 

Increasing our intake of plant-based foods and reducing our intake of meat and animal products can truly benefit our health, food budget and the environment. Plant-based diets don’t need to be followed strictly or involve cutting out all animal products in order to be beneficial. Simply striving for a diet that contains plenty of fruit and vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seed is what count. Our favourite way to do this is by making the vegetables or salad the hero of your dish or simply incorporating one or two meat-free meals per week. Activate foods stocks a great selection of plant-based meals.