Plant-based diets are not just a key to a healthier lifestyle – they are also easier on the environment.
A diet that is gaining popularity amongst nutritionists and naturopaths is the plant-based diet. However, you would be incorrect if you thought this meant it was the same as a vegan diet – it is not.
Vegans avoid eating or consuming any animal products, including honey, meat, seafood, dairy foods and eggs. A plant-based diet, however, simply emphasises eating fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and small amounts of animal products, and excluding, or at least reducing, refined foods, like added sugars, sweets, fast food, packaged and processed foods, white flour and processed oils.
In many ways, a plant-based diet is a more flexible, less restrictive option, and one where the individual may tailor their food intake according to what they like to eat and what they find their body needs in order to function optimally. A plant-based diet tends to have a smaller environmental footprint than one with more animal-based foods, and therefore plays a role in cutting greenhouse gas production and water consumption; plus, if you choose more sustainably sourced and organic produce, you will be helping to support the local economy and reduce reliance on factory farming.
Being high in fibre, as well as slow-burning energy from complex carbohydrates and water from the fruit and vegetables, a plant-based diet is linked to lower rates of cancer and heart disease than are seen in those people who eat a lot of meat products. In particular, plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of gastrointestinal and colorectal cancers. Plant-based diets have also been linked to an almost 50 per cent reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes; plus, they have been shown to improve blood sugar control in diabetes and pre-diabetes.
Eating a plant-based diet improves the health of your gut, so you are better able to absorb the nutrients from food that supports your immune system; it also reduces inflammation, lowers LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, stabilises blood pressure and regulates bowel function. In many studies, a higher intake of fruits and vegetables has been shown to be strongly associated with significantly better cognitive health, and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, mental impairment and dementia, thanks to their high content of nutrients and phytochemicals with antioxidant properties, which help to neutralise free radicals.
Focusing on plant foods and unprocessed foods plays a major role in weight loss and preventing obesity. A large and growing body of research consistently shows that adopting a plant-based eating pattern results in a significantly greater weight loss than a non-plant-based diet. Importantly, the combination of eating more plant-based foods and cutting out processed foods, like sweets, fast food, and refined grains, is both a weight loss tool and a tried-and-tested method for maintaining that hard-won weight loss.
Hemp foods These foods are highly nutritious and rich in healthy fats, boasting a 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, which can help to relieve dry skin, oxidation and inflammation, treat skin diseases like eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis and acne, and strengthen fragile or ageing skin, making it more resistant to infection. The fatty acid and polyphenol content of hemp seeds and oil is also beneficial for brain and heart health, and may even assist in pain relief, especially if the pain is a result of inflammation.
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Green and red superfoods Wheatgrass, barley grass, chlorella and spirulina are all nutrient-rich superfoods packed with valuable phytonutrients, such as carotenes, chlorophyll, folate, vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre, which support detoxification. Astaxanthin, from micro algae, is one of the most powerful antioxidants found in nature; other nutrient-rich ‘red’ plant foods include beetroot, acai berry, blackberry and pomegranate.
Go Vita loves … Melrose Essential Greens and Essential Reds
Phytoplankton This superfood is a microalgae, a natural, sustainable source omega-3 fatty acids plus over 75 essential nutrients. It supports and strengthens immunity, due to its unique nutrient profile of; beta glucan (shown to support immunomodulation and immunostimulant activity); glutathione, carotenoids and chlorophyll (antioxidants which protect cell membranes, enzymes and DNA from the harmful effects of free radicals); plus vitamins C, E, B12, the minerals zinc and iron, and omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA (all shown to reduce inflammation and support the immune system).
Go Vita loves … Ultana Phytoplankton from Phytality Nutrition