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5 Unexpected Reasons to Adopt a Plant-Based Diet

Better digestion, lower heart disease risks and other surprising reasons to eat more fruits and veggies.

Medically reviewed in July 2020

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There is no single pattern of plant-based eating, a regimen that encourages fruits, veggies, nuts and whole grains and limits processed foods, lean meats and dairy. Vegans choose to eliminate all animal products from their diet. Others, like lacto-ovo vegetarians, skip the meat, but eat eggs and dairy. People who eat fish but eliminate other meats are known as pescetarians.

There are different reasons for adopting a plant-based diet, and regardless of motivation, the benefits of eating a primarily plant-based diet, rich in produce, whole grains, nuts and seeds, are the same. 

Compared to meat and other animal products, plant products are naturally lower in saturated fat and cholesterol. Consumption of plant nutrition has also been to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and even some cancers.

Not all plant-based diets are cherries and bell peppers; a healthful veggie-rich diet takes careful planning. Some plant eaters find it difficult to get essential nutrients like vitamin B12, found only in animal products, and protein. Getting the recommended vitamins and nutrients from a plant-based diet is possible—it’s just a matter of knowing what (and how much) to eat.

You don't have to swear off meat either. Choose lean cuts like chicken and turkey breasts, and fish, like tuna and salmon and enjoy in moderation.

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Lower heart disease risk

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States. Some research suggests that adopting a plant-based diet eliminates some saturated fat and cholesterol, which, in excess, can increase your risk of heart disease. Compared to people who regularly ate meat, those who followed a vegetarian diet had a lower risk of heart disease-related mortality, according to an analysis of several studies.

Diabetes and obesity are risk factors of heart disease, and are more prevalent among non-vegetarian eaters. One study suggests diabetes is twice as likely to occur among individual who does not follow a plant-based diet. Likewise, studies suggest vegetarians typically have lower rates of obesity than non-vegetarians.

Food undoubtedly plays a role in your heart health, but it’s not the only factor, and plant-based eaters tend to be healthier in other ways, too. People who eat less meat often drink less alcohol, smoke less and are more physically active.

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Manage type 2 diabetes

More than 9 percent of Americans have either Type 1 or 2 diabetes. Diet has long been used, in combination with exercise and medication to manage type 2 diabetes. One small study suggests a plant-based diet, when compared to eating plants typically used to manage type 2 diabetes, is more effective for dropping pounds. Participants on a vegetarian diet lost almost twice as much weight as people on a conventional calorie-restricted diet.

There’s more. The study also suggests a low-calorie vegetarian diet is more effective at reducing subfascial fat, which lines the body’s muscles. Type 2 diabetes prevents the body from properly responding to insulin, and too much subfascial fat may contribute to this resistance. A reduction may help improve glucose control.

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Improve digestion

Fruits, veggies and some non-animal proteins, like beans, peas and other legumes, are loaded with fiber. One cup of black beans contains about 60 percent of the daily recommended value. Neither a serving of beef nor chicken contain any fiber at all. Fiber-rich diets promote regular bowel movements and normalize bowel health, which are both good for digestion.

A serving of chicken breast won’t send your bowels for a loop, but healthy digestion does rely on consuming enough fiber. Load your plate first with produce and plant-based proteins, before slicing up a serving of meat.

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Eat more nutrients

Expanding your diet to include more plant-based nutrition adds a plethora of vitamins, minerals and good-for-you fats. A cup of broccoli, for example, contains 11 percent of the daily recommended vitamin A and 135 percent of the vitamin C you need. Both are beneficial for immune health. The veggie also has 116 percent of vitamin K, which helps blood clot properly.

Packing your plate with a variety of produce—in a plethora of colors—will help your body get all the nutrients it needs.

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Produce less waste

Plant-based diets are good for your health, but they may also benefit the environment. Compared to diets rich in animal products, plant-based diets utilize fewer natural resources and are less draining on the environment. Grass-fed animals contribute to a small portion of animals raised for human consumption, and most livestock are fed grain, which could be consumed by humans instead.

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Join the veggie train

Whether you are ready to give meat up entirely or thinking about cutting back, start by adding more fruits and veggies to your plate.

Beans are a good source of protein, making them an excellent alternative to red meat. Swap the meat in some of your favorite dishes with beans—your body (and your wallet) will thank you.

  • Replace the ground beef in your next pot of chili with extra beans.
  • Make veggie tacos using succotash instead of beef.
  • Swap your fatty beef patty for a portabella mushroom cap.

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