Are Plant-Based Diets Worth it?
If you happen to be on foodie TikTok like me, it is pretty evident that the popularity of plant-based recipes and videos has pretty much taken over the internet. But whether it be for environmental reasons, health decisions, or just personal habits and daily choices, let’s dive into exactly what plant-based diets entail - and if they are worth the hype.
- A plant-based diet emphasizes consuming foods from plant sources, but doesn’t have to be restrictive by any means.
- Plant-based foods provide incomparable benefits to our bodies and skin via nutrients you can’t find elsewhere.
- The key to maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is eating whole foods and making sure to eat all your macro and micronutrients in whatever way that looks like for you.
What even is a plant-based diet?
Contrary to popular belief, enjoying a plant-based diet does not necessarily require being a strict vegetarian or vegan. In general, a plant-based diet simply focuses on eating food primarily from plants. By definition, these diets encourage plenty of fruits and veggies (of course) but also aim to include a plethora of beans and legumes, seeds, oils, whole grains, and dairy.
Even more: if you participate in a plant-based diet, it doesn’t mean that you can’t or don’t eat meat or animal products. Overall, the diet merely aims to proportionally consume foods that come from plant sources.
While you don’t have to fit strictly into one of these categories to participate, there are four main kinds of plant-based diets.
A vegan diet generally excludes any and all foods that contain animal products, or are sourced from animals. This is the most constrictive form of a plant-based diet.
Slightly less restrictive than a vegan diet, a vegetarian diet excludes meat, fish, and seafood, but animal products including dairy, eggs, and honey are encouraged. This is more popular than a vegan diet, with about 5% of Americans identifying as vegetarian as of 2018, compared to 3% identifying as vegan.
A pescatarian diet is essentially a type of vegetarianism that includes seafood as the main source of protein alongside other plant-based foods.
Increasing significantly in popularity, yet probably the most unheard of, a flexitarian diet is exactly what it sounds like: the most flexible variety of plant-based diet that enjoys fruits, veggies, eggs, dairy, and small amounts of meat. (See? Plant-based diets CAN include meat too.)
Benefits on the body
Let’s be clear about one thing: our food is the FUEL that we need to survive! Let’s dive a little bit deeper into how a plant-based diet can fuel us-- and why our bodies may thank us for consuming (a lot of!) fresh fruits and veggies.
Studies exploring the impacts of a plant-based diet on the body found that overall, plant-based populations contained lower numbers of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Plants are excellent sources of nutrients critical for our bodies to function healthily, including fiber, protein, unsaturated fats, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Research has shown that high levels of fiber nurture the healthy bacteria in our gut, thus encouraging higher levels of microbial diversity. Low microbial diversity has been scientifically correlated to diseases such as obesity and diabetes.
Furthermore, the micronutrients coming from plant sources work diligently in our cardiovascular and immune systems, reducing inflammation and promoting a happy and healthy body.
Overall, focusing on consuming those plant-based sources allows our bodies to better absorb all the nutrients from our meals-- supporting our immune system, lowering our cholesterol, regulating bowel movements, and balancing blood sugar.
Benefits for our skin
It’s no surprise that the largest organ of the human body requires a little bit of TLC to do its job: acting as a barrier to protect our bodies from outside harm. One of the best ways to keep our skin looking good and feeling better? Provide nourishment from the inside out!
Three nutrients that are necessary for flourishing skin are healthy fats, vitamin C, and vitamin A: all nutrients that come straight from our trusty plant sources!
Healthy fats keep the skin shining; Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s that come from unsaturated fats facilitate oil production that keeps our skin hydrated and firm. Avocados, sesame oil, and nuts are all great plant-based sources for the healthy fats that keep our skin growing and glowing.
Vitamin C promotes collagen production. Collagen keeps our skin strong and elastic (in addition to strengthening our bones, hair, and muscles.) Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, leading to a lower risk of skin cancer, and it heals our cuts and bruises. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus, peppers, broccoli, and potatoes.
Last, but certainly not least, Vitamin A, a micronutrient found in leafy greens, eggs, dairy products, and mangos, stops collagen from dissolving in the skin. It helps support the two outer layers of the skin, the dermis and epidermis, and aids against damage from the sun. But don’t ditch your SPF - it’s irreplaceable.
Is it right for me?
Overall, the key to maintaining a healthy diet is eating balanced, whole foods and making sure to consume all of our macro and micronutrients. This means eating those colorful fruits and veggies, whole grains, and proteins in whatever way that looks like for you, plant-based or not.
A plant-based diet isn’t an all-or-nothing choice, but should be a flexible and adaptable lifestyle decision that can, (and should!) be tailored to everyone individually. However, research shows that plant-based diets can be especially beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.
However, no one diet is immune to super processed and sugar-filled treats (I’m looking at you Oreos… we know you’re vegan.) Limiting these packaged and processed foods is critical to a balanced diet. But make sure to treat yourself every once in a while!
Regardless of whether or not you choose to adopt a plant-based diet, there is no denying the benefits that plants provide. If you choose to dabble in the plant-based world, make sure to consult with your physician or a registered dietitian to see what works best for you; and don’t forget to eat your fruits and veggies!
Written by Morgan Taylor