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World Earth Day: Impact & Benefits of Plant based Diets on Health and the Environment

Plant-based diets refer to a diet that primarily consists of food made of plants: fruits and vegetables in addition to nuts, whole grains, legumes, and seeds.

Aarushi Chadha
The need for a plant-based diet also arose because of the increased intake of processed foods by people, which do not have high nutritional value

Billions of people across the planet follow a plant-based diet, some by choice and some because of limits caused by fresh water, energy resources, and shortages of crops. Interest in a plant-based diet has increased because of its ability to prevent and manage symptoms of chronic diseases, along with having a positive impact on the environment.

The need for a plant-based diet also arose because of the increased intake of processed foods by people, which do not have high nutritional value. Regular consumption of highly processed foods promotes weight gain, puts people at a higher risk for diabetes, and even leads to hormonal imbalance which causes mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression.  

Impact and Benefits of Plant-Based Diet on Health

  1. Helps lose weight- Since plant-based diets have a high fibre content and are low in fat, it helps people lose weight. Plus, eating whole foods instead of processed foods aids digestion as whole foods promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.

  2. Boosts heart health- Plant-based diets benefit heart health by lowering blood pressure, lowering harmful cholesterol levels, and reducing the risk of heart disease.

  3. Reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes- Plant-based diets have a higher intake of whole grains, legumes, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, along with a lower intake of unhealthy fats.

  4. Reduced risk of cognitive impairment and dementia- Studies show that there is a correlation between high intakes of fruit and vegetables and a significantly reduced risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. A plant-based diet is also rich in antioxidants, folate, and vitamins which have significant cognitive benefits.

Impact of Plant-Based Diet on the Environment

  1. Reduced carbon footprint- Animals reared for meat produce a lot of greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming. In contrast, crops have a smaller carbon footprint.

  2. Prevents biodiversity loss- Unprocessed and processed red meat are associated with the greatest negative environmental impacts. Therefore, shifting towards plant-based diets can also help prevent biodiversity loss. The shift in dietary patterns could significantly reduce global land use for agriculture, by reducing the amount of land required for grazing and growing crops.

How to Start a Plant-Based Diet?

Start gradually- Nutrition experts believe that the transition to a plant-based diet should be slow. Pick a few of your favourite plant-based meals and start rotating them throughout the week. You can also start by eliminating two animal-based foods and replacing them with a healthy alternative. For instance, replace milk with oat, almond, or soy milk.

Try out new vegetable and fruit preparations every week and swap out processed meat-based junk food with healthy alternatives. Cut back on drinking soda by drinking carbonated or flavoured water. You will find yourself not craving meat-based foods as you continue to make incremental changes.

Go for a plant-based breakfast- Once you have tried to incorporate more plant-based dishes in your diet, try committing to eating at least one plant-based meal every day. Breakfast is a good start as you can have a wholesome plate of toast, waffles, pancakes, a smoothie bowl, cereal, etc.

Do not restrict your food intake- Compared with an all-meat diet, plant-based food has lower calories and a more diverse nutritional profile. Therefore, while transitioning to such a diet, begin by eating larger volumes of food that are needed to sustain your energy throughout the day.
Make sure that you are getting enough protein-
Plant-based food tends to have protein but in less concentration than meat. Therefore, while transitioning to a plant-based diet it is important that you are getting plenty of protein that can meet your daily requirements. Focus on incorporating cereals, grains, nuts, and seeds in your diet that are rich in protein.

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