Have you noticed the hype around plant based diets? Every day, more and more people are choosing to go plant based for many reasons including health, environmental, animal rights or even just because it’s the popular thing to do.
The good news is whatever the motivation we all experience the same benefits when we stop eating meat. And the longer you do it for the more you will start noticing the positive changes in your body.
Here are just a few things that happen to your body when you quit meat.
1. Your cholesterol levels will drop
High cholesterol is a key risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Saturated fat (mostly found in meat, poultry, cheese) is a major driver of blood cholesterol levels. Cholesterol found in food (dietary cholesterol) also plays a role. Plant based whole foods reduce cholesterol because they tend to be very low in saturated fat and they contain zero cholesterol. Studies show that when people make the switch from meat to plant based whole foods their blood cholesterol will drop by up to 35%. In addition, plant based whole foods are high in fiber, which is linked to lowering cholesterol levels.
2. Inflammation in your body will reduce
If you’ve been eating meat, cheese, dairy and other highly processed foods, you are likely to have elevated levels of inflammation in your body. This type of long term inflammation is known as chronic inflammation as opposed to short term inflammation which is normal and necessary for healing (such as after a physical injury). Chronic inflammation has been linked with the development of many conditions such as strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, atherosclerosis and many other conditions.
On the other hand, plant based foods are anti-inflammatory. That is because plant based whole foods are high in fibre, antioxidants and phytonutrients and have much lower levels of inflammatory triggers.
3. You’ll give your gut a makeover
The microorganisms (bacteria) living in your gut are crucial to your overall health. They help us digest our food, produce nutrients, train our immune system, turn genes on and off, and keep our gut tissue healthy. The conditions that are needed for a healthy gut can be ruined by eating meat.
However, plant based foods help create a healthy intestinal microbiome. The fibre in plant food promotes the growth of the good bacteria. Unlike fibre-poor diets that can foster the growth of disease-promoting bacteria.
The good news is it only takes a few days to see changes in your gut bacterial patterns.
4. You’ll change how your genes work
I learnt from The China Study (by Colin T. Campbell) that environmental and lifestyle factors can turn genes on and off. For example research has shown that lifestyle changes, including a plant based whole food diet, can decrease the expression of cancer genes in men with low-risk prostate cancer. The wide array of nutrients and antioxidants in plant based whole foods can change gene expression to optimize how our cells repair damaged DNA.
Research has also shown that plant based eating can lengthen our telomeres – the caps at the end of our chromosomes that help keep our DNA stable. This may mean that our cells and tissues age more slowly.
I don’t believe that you can stop the aging process however I do believe that you can stop doing all of the things that are speeding it up.
5. You’re chances of getting type 2 diabetes will reduce, dramatically
Animal protein has been shown in many studies to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. In the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and Nurses Health Study, increasing red meat intake by more than just half a serving per day was associated with a 48% increased risk in diabetes over 4 years.
Why? Animal fat, animal-based (heme) iron, and nitrate preservatives in meat have been found to damage pancreatic cells, worsen inflammation, cause weight gain, and impair the way our insulin functions.
6. You’ll get enough of the right type of protein
Most people believe that they need the protein found in meat. However, contrary to popular belief, more protein does not make you stronger or leaner. But in fact, this excess protein can hurt your body. Too much of the wrong type of protein is stored as fat or turned into waste and can be the cause of weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, inflammation and some cancers.
However, the protein found in plant based whole foods are known to protect us from many chronic diseases.
Studies of the longest-lived people on Earth (the Blue Zones) show that these people get about 10% of their calories from protein, compared with the average person on the standard western/American diet who gets 15-20% of their calories from protein.
It is easy to get enough protein on a whole food plant based diet if you are meeting your daily calorie needs (i.e. once you are eating enough food to sustain your body).
Eating a plant based diet is not just about been healthy. It’s also about our consciousness - our awareness of how our food choices affect the planet and the animals that we share it with. It helps us lead a more compassionate life. After all, being healthy is not just about the food we eat.