A balanced approach to Veganuary

The Health Benefits of Eating More Plants (A Balanced Approach)

We’re pretty sure you’re aware by now that it’s officially Veganuary. You might be trying out the vegan diet for yourself and if you’re not it’s highly likely that you know someone who is. This week we’re not going into how to eat a vegan diet healthily (we’ve covered that one. See here for more information of nutrients deficiency risks in the vegan diet). Rather we’re focusing on the health benefits of consuming more plants. This isn’t exclusive to those following a vegan diet at all. As the question we pose is: “Are the health benefits of the vegan diet influenced by a reduction in meat consumption or simply an increase in plant consumption?” We believe eating more plants is more beneficial than reducing your meat consumption. Equally you could argue that by increasing your plant consumption you’re naturally displacing meat and animal-based products. This is true yet this isn’t to say you have to become vegan in order to reap the benefits.

Dietary patterns

Within the world of nutrition it’s all too easy to draw premature conclusions rather than ask ourselves a wide range of questions. The point of this weeks blog is to encourage you to think about dietary patterns. Research suggests that meat consumption has increased by 62% since 1962. Alongside this, we have also seen a rise in type two diabetes incidence, risk of cardiovascular disease, increase in population obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol etc. Consequently, it might seem appropriate to suggest that meat were the cause of all this. It’s important to also consider the rise in stress, inactivity, sleep disorders, fast food and highly processed foods which may also play a role in the prevalence of these diseases. Therefore, before we go on to discuss the role of plants in our overall health we wish to highlight (once again) that you don’t have to go vegan to reap these benefits. If you’re a lover of meat or fish, it might be better for you to limit the highly processed meats, fast food and increase activity and plant consumption to reap your personal benefits.

So, what exactly are the benefits of increasing plants in your diet?

Much of the research has been conducted on plant-based diets. This term is commonly used interchangeably with the vegan diet although, there are large differences. The vegan diet excludes any animal or animal derived products, some vegans will also avoid the use of vegan derived products in their clothing, skincare and everyday products too. The term plant-based refers to a wide range of diets which focus on consuming more plants than animal products.

Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease

Research has shown that following a plant-based diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. It’s suggested that eating a diet rich in plants naturally increases intakes of fibre, antioxidants and micronutrients. One study found that consuming 200g of fruits and vegetables daily reduces stroke risk by 16% and cardiovascular disease risk by 8%. Nuts have also been shown to contribute to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease due to their fibre, healthy fats and protein content.

Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes

Research suggests that a plant-based diet (one based on wholefoods, rather than just the exclusion of animal products) is associated with improved insulin sensitivity and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. This would suggest that the role of plants are more beneficial than the reduction of animal products as the research showed that these associations were stronger in relation to fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrains. 

Improved general wellbeing

Some research has suggested that eating more plants is associated with an improvement in general mental wellbeing, physical wellbeing and quality of life in individuals with diabetes. 

Evidently there are some benefits associated with eating more plants. Plant-based are not by default healthy. One common misconception is that people believe that by reducing their meat consumption they automatically become healthier. Research suggests that those following an animal free diet which is high in fried foods, refined grains, sugar sweetened beverages and sugar had an increased risk of coronary heart disease when compared with whole-food plant-based diets. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that everyone will feel differently on a plant-based diet and it’s recommended to eat in a way which suits you best as there is no one-size fits all!

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Satija, A., Bhupathiraju, S. N., Spiegelman, D., Chiuve, S. E., Manson, J. E., Willett, W., ... & Hu, F. B. (2017). Healthful and unhealthful plant-based diets and the risk of coronary heart disease in US adults. Journal of the American College of Cardiology70(4), 411-422.

Qian, F., Liu, G., Hu, F. B., Bhupathiraju, S. N., & Sun, Q. (2019). Association between plant-based dietary patterns and risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA internal medicine179(10), 1335-1344.

Toumpanakis, A., Turnbull, T., & Alba-Barba, I. (2018). Effectiveness of plant-based diets in promoting well-being in the management of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review. BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care6(1), e000534.