Youve probably heard that eating a plant-based diet can lead to a healthier life. But knowing the specific health benefits can make swapping out your burger for a veggie alternative a little easier.
Heres a summary of four different studies that identify three significant health gains in reaching for plant-based proteins instead of those from beef, poultry and other animal sources.
1. Boost Heart Health
At St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, two studies have revealed that consuming plant-based protein can have a noticeable impact on heart health.
In one study led by Dr. John Sievenpiper, findings showed that swapping out an animal protein for a plant-based protein can help to prevent heart disease. The study looked at how this change impacted three key markers for cholesterol: LDL (low density lipoproteins), known as bad cholesterol, Non-high density lipoprotein cholesterol, which is non-HDL-C, or total cholesterol minus HDL or healthy/good cholesterol, and Apolipoprotein B, which is the protein in bad cholesterol that clog arteries. The research showed that replacing just one to two servings every day could reduce these markers by about 5 percent.
In another study, also by Dr. Sievenpiper, research showed that eating more tree nuts reduced two of the five markers for metabolic syndrome, which is a group of conditions that increase a persons heart disease risk and other health problems. There are many choices in the tree nut family: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, coconuts, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, walnuts, pine nuts and pistachios. Grabbing a handful of nuts at snack time can be a health-promoting choice.
2. Beneficial Saponins
A class of plant-based chemicals called saponins also brings significant health benefits. Saponins, which have a natural soap-like quality, are found in vegetables, and most legumes such as peanuts, beans and soybeans. Studies have linked these components to various health benefits: the ability to lower cholesterol levels, help boost immune function, and they may even help protect against cancer.
The body uses cholesterol to make bile, needed for proper digestion, after which it is released into the intestines. Saponins bind to bile in the intestines, transporting it out of the body as waste. This behavior is similar to the action of many cholesterol-lowering medications, but without the harmful side effects.
Saponins boost the immune system by helping to kill off fungal cells, preventing the growth of certain infections. They also support the bodys ability to fight off viruses and parasites.
Finally, research has found that the saponins found in soybeans can slow the growth of human cancer cells, and may help to destroy tumor cells, although further research is required.
3. A Longer Life
In a study led by Mingyang Song, M.D., Sc.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, findings linked a diet high in plant-based proteins with a lower risk of death, and a diet high in animal-based proteins with a higher risk of death. For every 10 percent increment of animal protein consumed from total calories, the researched linked a 2 percent higher risk of death from all causes, and an 8 percent increased risk of death specifically from cardiovascular disease. This was especially apparent in adults with at least one other risk factor, such as smoking, drinking or being overweight.
Giving up meals based around animal proteins can be difficult, but an easier approach is make gradual changes rather than trying to go cold-turkey. Even just substituting a few of your meals with a vegetable-based alternative can help you glean some of the health benefits. And as you build up familiarity with plant-based dishes and discover some you enjoy, you can gradually decrease the number of animal-based proteins you consume each week.
Debbie Swanson is a freelance writer, published in numerous national and local outlets. An avid vegetarian, animal lover and reader, she loves learning about healthy eating and finding natural cures for everyday ailments.