With so many diets out there on the market, how do we know which one is going to bring us the best results for our time and money? The goal of any diet is that it not only helps you lose weight, but that it is both sustainable long term and that it helps to improve your overall health. Instead of examining the pros and cons of the most popular diets, which would take a very long time, the solution for this is to examine the latest nutritional research to find out what has been shown to be the most effective diet for both weight loss and health. So which diet has consistently shown to be the best according to nutritional research and the medical literature? The plant-based diet! But why? And what exactly is a plant-based diet anyway?
A plant-based diet is a diet that is comprised of unprocessed plant-based whole foods, which includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. It is different than a vegan diet in that it promotes foods in its natural form, instead of processed foods, such as refined carbohydrates, foods fried in oil, chips, candy, etc. Even though any diet that promotes whole foods is going to be better than eating processed junk food, what makes the plant-based diet the best choice out of them all? The following 6 reasons are why this diet is seriously the best diet on the planet for both long term weight loss and overall health!
1. Low in Calories and High in Nutrients = Great for Weight Loss
Plant foods are naturally lower in calories and higher in nutrients. You can eat more volume of food and at the same time, stay within your daily caloric budget than you can if you ate foods that are higher in calories, such as in meats, dairy products, and processed foods. Because plant foods are lower in calories and are more nutritionally dense, you’re getting more bang for your buck by eating mostly plant foods. The following demonstrates the caloric density of plant-based whole foods according to Hever and Cronise (2017):
|Calorie Density Table:
Calories per 100 g
|1. Non-starchy vegetables (e.g., broccoli, carrots, beets, okra)||16–49|
|2. Fruits (e.g., berries, apples, bananas, tomatoes)||18–89|
|3. Starchy vegetables (e.g., potatoes, squash, corn)||17–94|
|4. Whole grains (e.g., rice, oats, quinoa)||71–120|
|5. Legumes (e.g., beans, lentils, peas)||116–164|
|6. Foods made with flour (e.g., bread, bagels, pasta)||149–280|
|7. Dried fruits (e.g., dates, prunes, raisins)||240–299|
|8. Sugars (e.g., table sugar, maple syrup, agave, corn syrup)||260–399|
|9. Nuts and Seeds (e.g., walnuts, cashews, flax seeds)||486–654|
|10. Oils (e.g., olive, coconut, canola)||884–892|
*To maximize your weight loss, it is best to consume most, if not all, of your foods from the first 5 food groups to stay within the foods that have the lowest caloric density.
2. It’s Loaded with Healthy Fiber
Research has consistently shown that a plant-based diet is effective for weight loss because it contains both fiber and water, which are important for satiety. All plant foods are loaded with fiber. Fiber helps one stay “regular” by aiding in digestion and preventing constipation. Meats, dairy products, and seafood contain no fiber at all, which can be hard on your digestion and eventually lead to constipation.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and reaches the intestine where they are digested by bacteria, which serves as a prebiotic, all leading to improved gut and colon health (Slavin, 2013). Insoluble fiber increases bulk, softens the stool, and shortens transit time through the gastrointestinal tract. Furthermore, because insoluble fibers are not digested at all, the FDA estimates that insoluble fibers do not contribute any calories! This means that you are getting more bulk in the foods, which is making you feel nice and full, without having to absorb any extra calories! This definitely makes trying to lose weight easier!
3. Reduces the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Harvard researchers tracked the health habits of approximately 110,000 people for 14 years and found that those who ate the most fruits and vegetables had lowered their chances of developing cardiovascular disease. It was shown that people who averaged eight or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day were 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke, compared to those who had less than 1.5 daily servings.
In the Lifestyle Heart Trial, Dr. Dean Ornish led a research team in which he treated 28 heart disease patients with lifestyle changes alone, without medications or surgery. For a year, the 28 patients in the experimental group were asked to eat a plant-based diet that was low in fat. The patients exercised 3 hours a week and practiced various forms of stress management, such as meditation and breathing exercises. During the same year, Dr. Ornish tracked a control group of 28 patients that were put on a standard treatment plan for heart disease. The findings had shown that 82% of the patients in the experimental group that were eating the plant-based diet had a regression in their heart disease over the course of the year. The blockages in their arteries diminished. They had a 91% reduction in the frequency of chest pain. In contrast, those in the control group who received the standard care saw a 165% rise in the frequency of chest pain and the blockages in their arteries increased by up to 8%!
Research has also shown that a plant-based diet is an effective prevention tool against coronary artery disease and atherogenesis. Atherosclerosis is associated with high dietary intake of meat and fat, which results from the progressive damage to the endothelial cells lining in the vascular system, including the heart, leading to endothelial dysfunction. Because of the protective benefits of the plant-based diet, it is quickly becoming recognized as a healthier alternative to a high meat diet when it comes to the treatment of cardiovascular disease.
4. Diabetes Prevention
Currently, there are approximately 387 million people who are living with diabetes, and according to the International Diabetes Federation, that number is expected to go up to almost 600 million by 2035. Fortunately, there is a large body of research showing how a plant-based diet is effective for reducing the risk of diabetes. For example, Dr. James Anderson, of the University of Kentucky in Lexington, directed a study that was discussed in The China Study. It examined the effects of a mostly plant-based diet that was rich in fiber and carbohydrates and low in fat. After just 3 weeks on the plant-based diet, the type 1 diabetic patients were able to lower their insulin medication by an average of 40% and 24 out of the 25 type 2 diabetic patients were able to discontinue their insulin medication!
In another research study, it was found that a healthy plant-based diet was linked to lower incidences of type 2 diabetes among both men and women. Because of the current research showing a strong association between a plant-based diet and the prevention of diabetes, we now know today that diabetes is entirely preventable by adopting a plant-based diet.
5. Fights Cancer
A 2018 review, led by a team of researchers, summarizes how plant metabolites are emerging with new leads for anti-cancer treatment. This very informative article discusses how various plant metabolites inhibits certain types of cancer cells. For example, resveratrol that is found in grapes, berries, and peanuts, has been shown to be very effective in the prevention and treatment of cancer. Resveratrols have also been reported to show cancer chemo preventive properties by blocking carcinogenesis.
In addition, Organosulfur compounds, which are found in garlic, leeks, shallots, and cruciferous vegetables, have been shown to have protective effects against several cancers, including breast cancer. Carotenoids, which are found in many plants, including the orange-red colors of oranges, tomatoes, and carrots, have shown to play a critical role in various biological processes such as the immune response, induction of apoptosis, and the suppression of several cancers. Finally, curcumin, which is found in turmeric, has been reported to have anti-cancer activity by inhibiting cancer cell growth. These are just a few of the several thousands of plant metabolites that have been identified and studied for their effectiveness as a prominent source in anti-cancer treatments.
6. Decreases the Overall Risk of Chronic Disease
Populations that consume a mostly plant-based diet, such as the Okinawans, have shown an overall reduction in chronic and age-associated diseases (Willcox et al. 2014). One of the largest studies ever conducted on dietary patterns of certain populations was the China Study. In the early 1980’s, nutritional biochemist T. Colin Campbell, PhD of Cornell University, in partnership with researchers at the Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, embarked upon one of the most comprehensive nutritional studies known at the time as the China Project.
Sixty-five counties in rural China were selected and the dietary, lifestyle, and disease characteristics of the populations of each county were compared. The truly plant-based nature of the rural Chinese diet gave researchers a chance to compare plant-based diets with animal-based diets. After detailed analysis, the consistency of these results led researchers to conclude that overall, the closer people came to an all plant-based diet, the lower their risk for chronic disease.
Just as there are many research studies pointing to the benefits of a plant-based diet, there are just as many studies showing how a diet high in meat, dairy products, and processed foods are damaging to our health, leading to chronic disease, overweight, and obesity. With so many nutritional research pointing towards the amazing benefits of a plant-based diet, it would make the most sense to incorporate as much fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds into your diet, while at the same time, limiting or completely eliminating your intake of meat, dairy, and processed foods.
The high levels of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients found in the plant-based diet is both nourishing and healing for the body. I have personally overcome many physical ailments, such as chronic bladder infections, painful stomach cramps, excessive acne, endometriosis, and infertility by adopting this miraculous diet, and believe me, I’ve tried just about all of them! In addition, I easily maintain a very healthy weight on this lifestyle. I certainly don’t feel restricted or deprived in any way because of all the delicious and abundant plant foods that I get to enjoy! Even if you don’t feel ready to entirely give up meat and dairy products, incorporating as my plant-based whole foods into your diet is going to benefit your health. Though you can lose weight on just about any diet, looking at the long term health effects is more important than temporary weight loss when investing in any diet program. So save yourself the time and money wondering what is the best diet out there because you will certainly experience both weight loss and amazing health on the whole foods plant-based diet!
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