Growing up, we all had connotations on what it meant to be vegetarian. Smells of Patchouli and Frankincense come to mind. Reggae music blasting. Tofu everything.
Jump forward to modern day. Vegetarian eating has come a long way. Most restaurants embrace plant based options and the community has grown at large. As our world continues to change, the need to eat more plant based has become more significant. Our food choices greatly impact our bodies and our environment.
There are lots of different reasons to go plant based. Weight loss, to increase energy, environmental concerns, to reduce the risk of heart disease, compassion for animals…the list goes on. By eating nothing but plants you can live a healthier, more sustainable life. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll find a healthy body weight, your skin will clear up and glow, your mental state will sharpen, your sleep will improve. As simple as it sounds, eating plants, close to their natural state, can transform your body, mind and spirit.
Health begins with what we put on our plate. But that’s just the starting point. True wellness goes beyond us to the collective sustainability and vitality of all living things. So, here’s how we break it down; Our Top 10 Reasons to go Plant Based to live a healthier and more responsible life.
1. Save the Planet
There’s an accountability to this earth we all shoulder to responsibly protect its environment and the billions of people and animals that we share it with.
Eating a plant based diet is the biggest way you can have a positive impact on your personal health and the health of our environment. Animal agriculture is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, more then the exhaust of all transportation modes combined. Adopting a plant based diet can cut your carbon footprint by 50%.
Animal agriculture is also a leading cause of land and water use, deforestation, wildlife destruction, and species extinction. About 2,500 gallons of water is needed to produce just one pound of beef in the North America. In the US, agriculture is responsible for almost 90% of water use. In fact, the meat and dairy industry uses one third of the entire planet’s fresh water and livestock covers 45% of the earth’s total land. In terms of land use, one and half acres of land can produce 37,000 pounds of plant food compare to only 375 pounds of meat. That means, a meat eater needs 18 times the amount of land necessary to feed someone eating plant based.
The oceans aren’t bearing well either. They’re being rapidly depleted of fish at an alarming rate. Many studies are saying that our oceans may be fish-less by 2048. The current food system, based on meat and dairy production, is also counter intuitive to solving world hunger, as the majority of crops grown globally go toward feeding livestock, not feeding people.
Equally important, animals raised for food, just like us, are sentient beings who are intellectual, emotional beings, that feel joy as well as suffering. Whether the animals are raised in an industrial factory farms or in a free range farm. Eating a plant-based diet helps us live a compassionate life that is mindful of our relationship with the environment and the animals that co exist with us. Coming full circle, living a healthy lifestyle is more than food choices; it’s also about our consciousness—our awareness of how our choices affect the planet and all of those with whom we share it.
2. Help Prevent Species Extinction
Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction. It is responsible for over 91% of Amazon destruction. By the time you finish this sentence, acres of rainforest will have been cleared. It’s frightening to even write that one to two acres of rainforest are cleared every second. To date, 136 million rainforest acres have been cleared for animal agriculture. With that, more than 130 plant, animal and insect species are lost every day due to rainforest destruction.
In addition to the immense habitat destruction caused by the clearing of forests and altering the land to grow feed crops for animal grazing, predators and alpha species are frequently targeted, hunted and killed because of a perceived threat to livestock profits.
Top it all off with the current rampant use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers used in the production of feed crops. These chemicals often interfere with the reproductive systems of animals and poison waterways that are commonly used as water sources for animals.
Moving to the oceans, the overexploitation of fish and ocean animals through commercial fishing is contributing to a worldwide depletion of species and resources. Three quarters of the world’s fisheries are either extremely exploited or completely depleted. Scientists are saying we could see fish-less oceans by 2048. Each year, 90-100 million tons of fish and marine animals (which is as many as 2.7 trillion animals) are pulled from our oceans. For every pound of fish caught, up to five pounds of unintended marine species are caught and thrown out as by-kill. It’s estimated that as many as 650,000 whales, dolphins and seals are killed every year by the fishing industry, which sadly doesn’t even come close to the 40-50 million sharks that have been killed in fishing lines and nets.
We need to start protecting the biodiversity that’s essential to maintaining the healthy ecology of our planet before it’s too late!
3. Reduce inflammation in your body
If meat, dairy and processed foods are a regular part of your diet, theres a good chance your body has high levels of inflammation. Short-term inflammation is normal and necessary, especially after a sports injury or an extra hard workout. However, long lasting inflammation that lingers for months or years is not. Chronic inflammation has been linked to atherosclerosis, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases, among other conditions.
Plant-based diets do just the opposite — they’re high in fiber, antioxidants, and other phytonutrients which provide natural anti-inflammatory benefits. Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds have far fewer inflammatory catalysts like saturated fat and endotoxins (toxins released from bacteria most commonly found in animal foods). Studies have shown that eating a plant-based diet can greatly lower levels of C-reactive protein, which is an indicator of inflammation in the body.
On top of this, animal products are incredibly acid forming, which promotes calcium loss from bones. Countries that costume the most cow’s milk and dairy by products have the highest bone fracture rates. In contrast, countries where 90% of the protein is derived from plant sources, report one fifth of the bone fractures. Contrary to all the advertising…milk doesn’t necessarily do the body good.
4. Lower Your blood cholesterol levels
High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and strokes, two of the leading contributors to death in North America. Saturated fat, which is mainly found in meat, poultry, cheese, and other animal products is a main contributor to our blood cholesterol levels. Cholesterol in our food plays a role, as well.
Studies consistently show blood cholesterol levels drop by up to 35% when people eat plant-based foods.
Plant-based diets reduce blood cholesterol as a plant-based, whole food diet is generally very low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Plant-based diets are also very high in fiber, which helps further reduces blood cholesterol levels.
5. A Happy Gut Equals a Happy Body
The trillions of endless microorganisms living in and making up our bodies are collectively called the microbiome. Studies are showing more and more that these microorganisms are necessary to our overall health. They are major players in helping us digest our food, plus they produce important nutrients, help train our immune systems, turn genes on and off, keep our gut tissue healthy, and help protect us from diseases such as cancer. If thats not enough, they also play a role in obesity, diabetes, atherosclerosis, autoimmune disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and liver disease.
A plant based diet helps maintain and boost a healthy intestinal microbiome. Fiber in plant foods promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in our guts. In contrast, diets low in fibre (such as diets high in dairy, eggs, and meat consumption) can promote the growth of disease-promoting bacteria. When we consume choline or carnitine (found in meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy), gut bacteria creates a substance that is converted by our liver to a toxic product called TMAO. TMAO harbours the growth of cholesterol plaques in our blood vessels which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
A plant-based meal creates little to no TMAO in comparison to a meat and dairy based meal, as they have a totally different gut microbiome. Interestingly, it only takes a few days for our gut bacterial patterns to change. You’ll notice the benefits of a plant-based diet almost instantly.
And then of course there are the high volumes of fibre, phytonutrients and antioxidants that keep the whole system cleaner. All that fibre sweeps out the pathogens, keeping the gut nice and clean as can be.
6. Change the Way Your Genes Work
Studies have established that lifestyle and environmental factors can turn genes on and turn them off. For example, when we eat whole plant foods, the antioxidants and nutrients from the plants can change gene expression to optimize how our cells repair damaged DNA. Research has shown that a plant-based lifestyle can lengthen our telomeres (which are the caps at the end of our chromosomes that help keep our DNA stable). This can lead to our cells and tissues aging more slowly, as shortened telomeres are linked with aging and earlier death.
7. Reduce Your odds of getting type 2 diabetes.
It’s estimated that almost 40% of Americans have pre-diabetes. Protein derived from animal products (most specifically red and processed meat), increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. Studies show that omnivores have double the rate of diabetes compared to vegans. Eating meat even once a week or more over a 17-year study showed an increased risk of diabetes by more than 70%! Further research shows that increasing red meat consumption by more than just half a serving per day equates to a 48% increased risk in diabetes over 4 years.
So why does eating meat cause type 2 diabetes? Animal fat, animal-based iron, and nitrate preservatives in meat damage pancreatic cells, worsen inflammation, cause weight gain, and impair how our insulin functions.
Not eating animal products and eating a diet based of whole plant foods will dramatically lessen our chances of getting type 2 diabetes. Regularly eating whole grains, which are highly protective against type 2 diabetes, will further the cause. If you are already diabetic, eating a plant-based diet can improve and even reverse type 2 diabetes.
8. Protein! You’ll get the right amount of it!
Most people in North America get more then 1.5 times the recommended amount of daily protein, and most of it from animal sources.
Contrary to the popular opinion, excess protein does not make us stronger, nor does it make us leaner. Our body can store excess protein as fat or turn it into waste. Animal protein is a major contributor to weight gain, heart disease, diabetes and inflammation.
In contrast, the protein from whole plant based foods helps protect us from many chronic diseases. Think of Popeye. He was ahead of his time, getting protein to support his active lifestyle through his favourite superfood: spinach! As long as your daily calorie needs are met and you’re consuming a plant-based diet. you will get plenty of protein. Gorillas, giraffes, rhinos, elephants…they’re all strong animals on a 100% plant based diet.
9. Prevent (and reverse) chronic disease and Feed the World
North America is obsessed with weight loss, but we’re clinically the sickest region of the world. On this earth, we’ve got people dying of starvation every minute, yet we’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic in North America. Studies show that we are currently growing enough food to comfortably feed 10 billion people. The US alone could feed more then 800 million people with the grain that is used to feed livestock. There really is no reason for anyone to go hungry. Starvation has more to do with allocation and distribution of food than scarcity.
Over-eating has evolved through processed and fast foods. The fast food lifestyle is very literally killing us. In America, one out of every three Americans die of heart disease. 70% of Americans are obese or overweight and it’s predicted that within the next 15 years, 50% of adult Americans will be diabetic or pre-diabetic. We crash and burn with unsustainable binge diets and weight loss plans. We spend more on weight loss than any other continent yet we battle more cases of obesity. Our food choices can lead to disease and death or it can be quite the opposite: the best preventative health care available. A plant based diet has been proven to prevent and even reverse disease. Studies have shown that having a plant-based dietary approach leads to larger short term and long term improvements in dietary inflammatory and macronutrient intake compared with diets that contain meat. It’s time for us to get informed and make empowered decisions regarding our health and the food that we eat.
10. Make your Skin Glow
The easiest (and cheapest) way to have healthy, glowing skin is to eat a clean, healthy diet, while avoiding processed foods, meat and dairy. Your hair, your eyes, your skin and nails will all gleam with a healthy glow from a plant based diet. The detoxifying effect of consuming plants, the boosted elimination benefits, plus the ease of which plants are digested all leads to less internal toxins giving us acne, and more nutrients to make our hair shine and our skin glow. Fruits and vegetables are naturally dense with beautifying vitamins like vitamin c, which boosts collagen and smooths wrinkles; lycopene, which helps protect skin from the sun; and with antioxidants like lutein and beta carotene, which help to soften the skin and keep it looking supple.
(Bonus) You’ll Lose Weight
Plants are generally low in calories and high in nutrients. Calorie for calorie, plants give your body the biggest nutritional bang for your buck. This nutrient density results in you needing less food to feel fuller. Also, plants are high in fibre and keep us regular, which helps us stay slim. As plants, especially in their raw form, are nutrient packed, your body has less work to do in digesting food. Since, plant foods require so little digestion, the nutrients are quickly absorbed resulting in almost instant and long lasting energy. This abundant energy will help you with your physical exercise and staying in shape. In addition to dropping a few pounds, you’ll also likely see a drop in your cholesterol. Though our genes have an influence on our cholesterol level, a plant-based diet can have an impact as only foods derived from animals contain cholesterol.
There’s no need to put a label on it: vegan, plant-based, omnivore or flexitarian — no matter what you call it, eating more plants is one of the most profound choices that you can make. We feel it’s one of the most positively impactful ways to live a conscious and compassionate life. A plant-based diet will help prevent and reverse disease, greatly reduce your carbon footprint, and preserve our world for many generation to come. Whether you are a doctor, naturopath, paleo, vegan, omnivore, or the person that orders a side of bacon with everything, we can all agree that eating whole, plant-based foods means more nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre and healthy fats. We all need these things for optimal health. Go for the greens, spread the word, and do your part in changing the world, one forkful, one bite at a time!
Written by Zach Berman, The Juice Truck co-owner