I’m a dietitian, a supposed “expert” in nutrition, so why do we only write about recipes and thoughtful living and our love of food and cooking here on PEM? Some of you may be thinking, “hey, where’s the nutrition info?!”
My nutrition philosophy is a bit different than many dietitians (and not just the fact that I would never claim KRAFT singles to be nutritious). I don’t much care for “nutrition reductionism” (talk of individual nutrients and calories and phytochemicals) nor do I think that talk is very helpful for you. After all, we eat whole foods, not a bowl full of vitamin C or fiber! I prefer a more humble approach – I put my trust in what Mother Nature grows and assume that she is much smarter than any scientist can ever hope to be. In my opinion, this is the most enjoyable way to embrace food.
That being said, I do think it’s important for informed eaters to keep an eye on emerging nutrition research. I hope to weave this science talk into our food talk from time to time so that you feel informed and have somewhere sturdy to put your faith (although nothing is much sturdier than Mother Nature herself!). The nutrition information you’ll find on PEM will focus on the science that is playing catch up to what Mother Nature has infinitely known – not on the science of discovering which macronutrient/calorie level/vitamin/mineral is “the problem” or “the answer”.
In the spirit of evidence-based food choices, here are the top 10 reasons to eat a whole-food plant-based diet. In short: it just makes scientific sense.
People who eat a completely plant-based diet tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) compared to meat-eaters as well as vegetarians (eat dairy and eggs) and pescatarians (eat fish). A plant-based diet is also one of the most effective ways to lose weight, spurring more than double the weight loss of a low-calorie omnivorous diet.
Heart Disease Prevention and Reversal
People who eat a plant-based diet are less likely to die from coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, heart disease death rates are 66% lower for plant-based men and a whopping 98% lower for plant-based women! Plant-based diets are also powerful enough to reverse heart disease. People suffering from heart disease who began eating a low-fat vegetarian diet reversed their atherosclerosis and experienced two times fewer cardiac events compared to people with heart disease who began the standard recommended “heart healthy” omnivorous diet.
People who eat a plant-based diet are less likely to die from all cancers. Specifically, research has shown they are 62% less likely to die from colorectal cancers and 85% less likely to die from breast cancer. Animal products are associated with higher cancer risk. Men who drink > 1 glass of milk per day double their risk of prostate cancer, and women who eat /drink > 1 serving of high-fat dairy per day experience a 49% increased risk of dying from breast cancer. Processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, ham, and salami increase cancer risk by 44%.
Diabetes Prevention and Reversal
People who eat a completely plant-based diet are 60% less likely to develop diabetes. Just like heart disease, a plant-based has the power to reverse diabetes. Compared to the standard recommended diabetic diet, a low-fat plant-based diet is more effective at reducing medication dependence, and twice as effective at reducing HbA1c, twice as effective at reducing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and twice as effective at promoting weight loss.
The bacteria residing in our digestive tract offers a lot of insight into overall health. Plant-based diets create prime conditions for a community of gut bacteria that promotes health through various mechanisms. Healthy gut bacteria makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight, prevent digestive diseases, and even prevent chronic diseases like heart disease. The gut bacteria of meat eaters actually produces a byproduct that is linked to heart disease.
People who eat a plant-based diet tend to live longer than meat eaters. Countries like Japan with the longest life expectancy also tend to eat a very plant-heavy diet.
Exercise creates oxidative stress which puts limits on the ability to perform and recover from exercise. A plant-based diet is rich in antioxidants which may result in less fatigue and quicker recovery. Many individual plant foods are proven performance enhancers as well.
Calorie for calorie, it requires 10 times as much land, 10 times as much water, and 10 times as much energy to produce the Standard American Diet compared to a plant-based diet. One cow’s annual output of methane equates to the emissions from a car burning 235 gallons of gasoline! We devote valuable resources to growing animals for food (and growing food for the animals we are growing for food), it just makes sense to cut out the middle man (Mr. Cow) and put resources toward growing plants for humans to eat directly!
Trading meat, eggs, and dairy for simple, readily available plant foods is economically smart. A gram of bean protein is 4 times cheaper than a gram of beef protein and 2 times cheaper than a gram of egg protein. Plant foods come in a much more nutritious package than animal foods, so you get more nourishment for your money.
Although the data is astounding (see above), we don’t believe a plant-based diet must be “all or nothing”. It’s a spectrum. However, going the extra distance and choosing to opt out of the business of eating animals altogether offers a powerful way to voice your thoughtful food views. It’s empowering to take a stand on such an important issue through thoughtful action.