Is a Plant-Based Diet Healthy Long Term
By Lisa Patterson
Talk of plant-based eating is everywhere at the moment. Of course, we all know that eating a few extra serves of fruit or veggies is good for you. But are plant-based diets really health-promoting when followed long term?
The answer is that when well-planned, plant-based diets are conducive to good health over the long term. A plant-based diet has even been promoted by the American Dietetic Association as safe and healthy for all stages of life, including pregnancy, breastfeeding, childhood and adolescence (American Dietetic Association 2009)
In fact, one of the key similarities between “Blue Zones” globally is that the populations follow largely plant-based eating patterns. These “Blue Zones” are certain population groups around the world which exhibit increased life expectancy with low levels of chronic disease. It is thought that alongside balanced social lives and regular physical activity, these populations are able to enjoy good health and increased life spans largely due to their plant-centric eating patterns (Meccariello 2021).
So, what exactly is a plant-based diet and why is it so beneficial for our health?
A plant-based diet is the term used to refer to a pattern of eating which focuses on mostly plant foods. These include not only fruits and vegetables but also wholegrains, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, sea vegetables and legumes.
You’ve likely heard the terms vegetarian, vegan and even flexitarian - all of which can be considered as forms of a plant-based diet. However, whether or not these eating patterns choose to include some animal products, the emphasis is placed primarily on plants.
One of the key benefits of a plant-centric diet is the reduced risk of developing lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension and type 2 diabetes (Tuso et al. 2013).
Due to the reduction or elimination of animal products, plant-based eating patterns typically tend to have a low intake of saturated fat. Saturated fat is present in greater quantities in animal-based foods such as meats and dairy products. When consumed in excess, saturated fat increases our risk of developing cardiovascular disease (Kim et al. 2019), obesity and other chronic conditions.
A diet rich in nutrient-dense plants provides an abundance of micronutrients such as vitamins C and E, and magnesium to name a few (Schüpbach et al. 2015).
Whole, unprocessed plant foods are also rich in antioxidants, which protect our cells from free radical damage. These antioxidants are thought to be the reason plant-based diets are associated with lower levels of inflammation, hypertension, diabetes and even certain cancers (Deledda et al. 2021).
Furthermore, plant-predominant diets promote great gut health.
Furthermore, plant-predominant diets promote great gut health. The beneficial bacteria within our gut feed on fibre, which is found only in plant foods. By increasing our intake of different plants, we’re also feeding and fueling the beneficial bacteria within our gut microbiome. Gut health is key for not only our digestion, but also for supporting healthy skin, balanced moods and our immunity (Guinane & Cotter, 2013).
In summary, a well-planned plant-based diet is not only nutritionally adequate but also health-promoting through all stages of life. Enjoying a diet rich in plant foods has been shown to improve gut health, reduce the risk of chronic disease and promote longevity.