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Health Matters: Top Health Benefits of Plant-Based Diets

Health Matters: Top Health Benefits of Plant-Based Diets

March is observed as National Nutrition Month, but proper nutrition is something individuals should think about all year round.

More than weight loss, good nutrition results in a number of health benefits. A plant-based diet, in particular, can lower your risk of certain chronic conditions, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and more.

Plant-Based vs. Vegan

The terms vegan and plant-based are often used interchangeably, but there are some unique differences between the two. Both exclude meat and dairy, but vegan diets tend to be a bit stricter. “Some vegans will actually avoid honey, because even though honey is not an animal product itself, it is a byproduct of using animals [bees],” notes Julie Merrell, a Registered Dietician Nutritionist at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital.

Veganism also has an ethics association, whereas eating a plant-based diet is really just about quality of nutrition.

Benefits Abound

As mentioned, incorporating more plants into your diet has a number of physiological benefits. For example, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are very nutrient dense—to a point where those nutrients cannot be fully replicated by supplements. A plant-based diet also ensures you’re getting adequate fiber, which is important for digestive health.

Merrell explains there are several disease states that tend to have better results when adhering to a plant-based diet, including heart disease (cholesterol), diabetes, kidney disease, and chronic inflammatory conditions such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease. “A plant-based diet won’t allow your body to become quite as inflamed. It’s less stressful on the body,” she adds.

Weight loss is another area where a plant-based diet can be helpful.

Start Small, Start Simple

It might seem overwhelming to switch to an all plant-based diet, but Merrell says simple substitutions are the key. “Think of dividing your plate into four quarters: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and protein. When you compare the average person’s normal diet to a plant-based diet, the only change you have to make is the protein. So, instead of incorporating chicken into your meal, you can try doing chickpeas instead.”

Even if you don’t turn to a fully plant-based diet 24/7, you’ll still reap some of the health benefits. Merrell suggests looking at the recipes you and your family enjoy and tweaking them slightly to reduce the amount of animal protein. “Do you really need an entire pound of meat when making spaghetti sauce? Could it taste just as well with half a pound? Just by doing reducing volume, you can realize health improvements.”

Another option is to choose a day of the week to start eliminating meat, like “Meatless Mondays.” Soon, you may discover you’re only eating animal products one or two days, and going plant-based the rest of the week.

“Making these small changes is completely affordable as well,” assures Merrell. “Something like beans and rice is actually a perfect example of a plant-based meal and they’re very affordable. Just take it as a fun experiment to try. Try something new. Try something with plants.”

**To listen to an interview with Julie Merrell, a Registered Dietician Nutritionist at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, follow this link: