By now, we all know that diet fads are the absolute worst. Although social media and external factors might attempt to influence how we eat, we know better: that it really depends on the individual’s needs. This means listening to one's body to determine the best way to achieve a well-balanced, healthy, and joyful lifestyle.
And while diets are toxic and questionable at best, research has shown that plant-based eating can offer several benefits. What's key here is that this meal regime doesn't necessarily involve cutting out any of your favorite foods, meat and dairy included—plant-based eating is, instead, all about adding more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and the like to your dishes. Think of a plant-forward diet as an antidote to diet culture: You can reap the short- and long-term benefits of consuming plants without imposing any restrictions upon yourself.
If you're following Well+Good's 2023 ReNew Year program, you already know that according to Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN, of Brooklyn-based Maya Feller Nutrition and cookbook author of Eating from Our Roots, eating more fruits and veggies can do wonders for your mind and body. To learn more, we spoke with registered dietitian Mia Syn, MS, RDN, and author of Mostly Plant-Based, who shared the long-term benefits of following a (mostly) plant-based diet. And let’s just say the pros are pretty convincing.
10 long-term benefits of a plant-based diet
1. You’ll eat more foods packed with a diverse array of nutritional benefits
According to Syn, one of the benefits of consuming a plant-forward diet is the vast array of foods packed with nutritional benefits you’ll consume more frequently. “When you incorporate mostly plant-based whole foods into your diet, you naturally get more of the ‘good stuff’ that supports overall health—namely fiber, essential vitamins and minerals, and phytonutrients—and less of the ‘not-so-good stuff’ that’s linked to elevated chronic disease risk—namely saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and added sugar,” Syn says. As a result, she adds, eating more plants can 100 percent help you live longer.
2. Plant-based eating can help you have a healthier relationship with food
It’s no secret that when eating more plant-based foods, you’ll consume much more fiber, which can help balance your appetite and keep your energy levels stable throughout the day. “On a mostly plant-based diet, you consume foods that make you feel satisfied. These foods also help stabilize your blood sugar for steady energy,” Syn says.
This can further strengthen your relationship with food. “With this way of eating, you’ll stop thinking about food all the time, release any guilt or anxiety you have about food, and free up energy and brainpower for living life instead of dieting,” Syn says.
3. Your gut will thank you (less! constipation!)
According to Syn, one of the first things you’ll notice in a plant-forward diet is improvements in your digestion and gut health. That’s because of the diverse nutritional profile of plant-based foods that gastroenterologists love that helps support a healthier GI system. “A diet focused on mostly plant-based whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds is naturally rich in soluble and insoluble fiber, which is so good for your digestion, regularity, and gut health,” she says.
4. Your energy levels will increase
Feel sluggish after a big meal? Plant-forward foods can actually help keep the post-meal drowsies at bay and increase your energy levels throughout the day. “A mostly plant-based whole-food diet fuels your body with the bioavailable nutrition that it needs to thrive. Your body can efficiently break down whole foods, absorb the nutrition they provide, and utilize those nutrients. One of the first places you will notice a difference is in your energy levels,” Syn says.
5. You'll likely see improvements in your overall well-being
While you might not see drastic improvements overnight (except for, hey, that whole regular-poop-schedule situation), the benefits of plant-based eating can absolutely improve your overall well-being over time. “Your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar will improve. Nearly all plant foods—with a few unique exceptions, like coconut and palm oil—are free of saturated fat, which is directly linked to elevated cholesterol levels. Additionally, replacing processed foods and refined carbohydrates with plant-based whole foods and high-quality animal products can significantly reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes,” Syn says.
6. You'll broaden your palate
As you introduce more plants into your diet, your sense of taste will adapt. “Your taste buds will be rewired. When you follow a mostly plant-based whole-food diet, your taste buds will be 'rewired.' A study published in the journal Chemical Senses found that repeated exposure to nutritious, less hyper-palatable foods like broccoli and leafy greens can change proteins in saliva to calm the initial distaste for bitter and other flavors,” Syn says.
7. Your skin will glow
Ever heard the saying "true beauty comes from within?" Because, really, it does. According to Syn, eating more plant-based foods can make your skin glow from the inside out. “Whole plant foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds naturally contain polyphenols and antioxidants, which have a direct impact on lowering inflammation in the body and, therefore, the skin,” she says.
8. You’ll have a stronger immune system
TBH, with cold and flu season in full swing, lifestyle tips for staving away sickness are always welcome. “Plant foods like bell peppers and almonds are rich in nutrients like vitamin C and vitamin E, which play a role in supporting immune function,” Syn says.
And to further strengthen your immune system, Syn recommends a few non-plant-forward items to add to the menu, too. “Furthermore, when you choose high-quality animal products like low-mercury seafood, pasture-raised eggs, and grass-fed beef, you get additional immune-supporting nutrients like bioavailable zinc and vitamin D,” she says. She also suggests sticking to a diet rich in plant-based protein and low in sugar, salt, and processed meat, which in turn can promote healthy cellular aging and reduce cardiovascular and overall mortality risk.
9. You’ll likely cut food costs
According to Syn, plant-forward eating may actually help you save some cash. “Purchasing mostly plant-based whole-food ingredients like produce, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds while limiting animal products and eliminating processed foods is likely to save you money month after month, because meat can come with a hefty price tag—especially at restaurants,” she says.
10. You’ll decrease your carbon footprint
One of the biggest pros of adopting a plant-forward diet is the positive impact it can have on the environment. “You’ll lower your carbon footprint. Plant foods have a lesser environmental impact than animal foods in all areas—land use, water supply, and greenhouse gas emissions,” Syn says, which is a win-win on all fronts.
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