A whole food plant-based diet (WFPB) has an abundance of scientifically proven benefits for the health of us all but also for the planet. So, given some of the confusing diet related information shared on social media by some “experts” what are the scientifically backed, evidenced based benefits of following a plant-based diet?
HEALTH BENEFITS OF WHOLE PLANT FOODS
Basing your diet around whole plant foods has been shown to offer a protective effect against the type of diseases associated with a traditional western diet. Studies have shown that eating a WFPB diet can result in reductions in the risk of developing chronic lifestyle diseases such as obesity and other diet related risk factors, and an increase in life-expectancy and quality of life. A study comparing the nutritional quality of a number of different vegetarian diets concluded that the vegan plant-based diet was consistently the healthiest. The consumption of whole plant foods (nuts, seeds, grains, pulses, beans, fruits and vegetables) and the associated nutrients (fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients) offers benefits to health and can provide a nutritionally adequate and balanced diet for all stages of life and for athletes. Latest recommendations also suggest an increase in overall fruit and vegetable intake, with 10 servings per day offering the lowest risk of all-cause mortality. The study estimated that 7.8 million deaths worldwide may be attributable to fruit and vegetable intakes being below this level.
In addition to the health benefits that are associated with a WFPB diet, basing our food choices around plants, rather than animals, has the potential to give massive benefits for the planet and for the protection of our environment.
ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS OF A WFPB DIET
WFPB diets are more sustainable than diets based around animal products as they use fewer natural resources and cause less environmental damage. To produce 1kg of protein from beans requires 18 times less land, 10 times less water, 9 times less fuel and 10 times less pesticides than producing 1kg of protein from beef. A vegan diet has been shown to also lower greenhouse emissions by more than 50% when compared to a non-vegetarian diet. Some scientists are suggesting that to meet our environmental targets, to reverse climate change and for the long-term sustainability of the planet a substantial reduction in meat consumption and alteration in the human diet is required. In addition, an increasing number of environmentalists are turning to a plant-based diet, recognizing that it requires far less land, energy and water than the traditional Western diet.
The Mediterranean diet (MD), with its high consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, is often cited as one of the healthiest diets in the world with the population of Crete having one of the highest life-expectancy rates. A recent assessment of the nutritional quality of a vegan diet compared to a MD concluded that the MD has a lower nutritional quality, higher Global warming potential, a three times greater regional biodiversity impact and that the vegan diet overall was more sustainable. The main difference between the two diets was the meat and fish content of the MD. The global warming potential of the vegan diet was identified as around half and the land use around a third that of the MD.
A UK study of greenhouse gas emissions of various diets also came to a similar conclusion, that emissions in meat-eaters are approximately twice as high as those in vegans!
Vegan is healthy, possible and sustainable! Respect the environment and your body, choose plant-based!
Author: Philip Woodbridge
Philip Woodbridge is a registered Sports Nutritionist with the SENr (Sports and Exercise Nutrition Register) and specialises in plant-based nutrition through his consultancy P4S Nutrition. Philip is author of a nutrition guide and cookbook Plant-Based 4 Running.
All scientific references for the above article can be found in the Plant-Based 4 Running cookbook and nutrition guide.