1 November 2022 is World Vegan Day. Founded in 1994 by animal rights activist and President of the Vegan Society Louise Wallis, World Vegan Day aims to celebrate and promote the positive aspects of veganism for human health, animal welfare, and the environment.
Veganism is not right for everyone, and only you and your healthcare professionals can decide whether it is the best diet for you. But whether you’re interested in taking the plunge into a vegan life or simply looking to cut back on your consumption of animal products, doing so can have numerous benefits for your health.
Here are four great reasons to add more plant-based foods into your diet.
Keep Your Heart Healthy
Meats such as beef, lamb, and pork are all high in saturated fat. Saturated fat is high in calories and eating too much of it can contribute to raised levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in the blood. This can increase your risk of heart disease.
Therefore, your heart will thank you for cutting back on meat (particularly those meats that are high in saturated fat) and swapping in plant-based foods instead. You can replace those unhealthy saturated fats with healthier unsaturated fats found in plant foods such as nuts, avocados, and olive oil.
One study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that high adherence to a healthy plant-based diet was associated with a 19% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.
Many plant-based foods have anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is the body’s way of dealing with harmful invaders such as bacteria and viruses, and is an important part of a healthy immune system. Chronic inflammation, however, occurs when there is nothing to fight off.
Many of the unhealthy foods common in modern diets are pro-inflammatory, meaning that they can make inflammation worse. These include processed foods, processed meat, fried foods, and refined sugar, as well as excessive alcohol consumption.
If you suffer from inflammation, adding plenty of anti-inflammatory foods to your diet can help. Some of the healthiest foods with anti-inflammatory properties include green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach, yellow vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, extra virgin olive oil, tomatoes, and fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, and cherries.
Lose Weight or Maintain a Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best ways to help fight off many preventable health complications, and data indicates that a plant-based diet may help with weight management. One study followed 65 overweight adults as they ate a whole-food, plant-based diet for one year and found that they lost 9.25 pounds on average.
Even if you are already at a healthy weight, it’s important to eat well to ensure that your weight stays within the appropriate range.
If you need to lose weight, cutting down on meat is one great dietary change to make. Meat is high in calories and fat, whereas many plant-based foods are much lower in calories. This means you can eat a greater volume of food, keeping you full and satisfied, while still maintaining the calorie deficit required for weight loss. Whole grains and vegetables are also low glycemic index foods, meaning that they are digested more slowly and help you to feel full for longer.
A word of warning, though: just because something is labeled “vegan”, it is not necessarily healthy. Vegan junk food is still junk food! Whole and minimally-processed plant based foods are best.
Lower Your Risk of Certain Cancers
Certain foods and drinks have been linked to higher risk of cancer. These include alcohol, fast foods, highly processed foods, sugar-sweetened drinks, and red and processed meats.
In 2015, the World Health Organization classified processed meats as “carcinogenic to humans”, meaning there is sufficient evidence that they can cause cancer. Processed meat is particularly associated with colorectal cancer. Therefore, if you eat a lot of red or processed meat, cutting down could significantly lower your cancer risk over your lifetime.
According to the Mayo Clinic, plant-based diets can help to fight cancer by providing phytochemicals which protect cells from damage, boosting fiber consumption, and helping with weight management.
Remember: It’s Not All or Nothing!
If you currently eat a lot of meat, you don’t need to go vegan overnight to see health benefits. Instead, try experimenting with a few meat-free meals each week, replacing meat with a vegan protein source (such as beans or tofu) in some recipes, and trying some new fruits or vegetables. You might be surprised at how many delicious new foods you discover.