Today’s entry is written by Sharon Palmer, a California-based Registered Dietician and food and nutrition writer. Sharon provides us with insight into the advantages and benefits of integrating a wide array of whole plant foods into our diets, whether you’re an omnivore, vegetarian or vegan.
“I’m trying to live in balance with the earth by reducing my carbon foot print.” That’s just one of the many reasons I receive when I ask people why they eat a plant-based diet—a style of eating that focuses on plant foods such as whole grains, beans, lentils, soy, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits rather than animal foods. And it’s a valid reason, as statistics show that animal agriculture exacts a higher price on our environment than the entire transportation sector.Yet, one of the most important reasons to take on a plant-based diet is entirely selfish—you can life a longer life, with less risk of chronic disease weighing you down with its nagging burden of disability and medical costs. Just the simple act of filling your plate with plant foods instead of animal foods can do a lot to improve the quality of your life in many ways—a view that is borne out by science.
In a study of 500,000 adults who took part in the National Institutes of Health–AARP Diet and Health Study over ten years, those who consumed about 4 ounces of red meat a day (the size of a small hamburger) were more than 30% more likely to die, mostly from heart disease and cancer, compared with those who ate the lowest amounts of meat. In addition, researchers discovered that diets which include more whole plant foods are linked with a longer lifespan. In the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study, the largest existing database looking at diet and longevity, researchers found that the more closely people adhered to a plant-based diet, the longer their lifespan.
The Advantages of a Plant-Based Diet
It shouldn’t be surprising that shifting to whole plant foods can help you live longer; this eating style offers a multitude of benefits such as lower risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and heart disease. So, what’s so special about plants? Humans have enjoyed a special relationship with thousands of plants that sustained us throughout time—from quinoa for the ancient South Americans to sunflower seeds for the early Native Americans. These plant foods contain countless nutrients and compounds that appear to protect us from disease.
The beauty of a plant-based diet is that it can fit into your own lifestyle—whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or an omnivore. All you have to do is replace animal foods such as meat and dairy with nutrient-rich plant foods such as protein-rich beans, lentils, peas, whole grains, vegetables nuts, and seeds. Now that’s a really good—and delicious—reason to celebrate a long, healthy life.
Gary E Fraser, “Vegetarian Diets: What Do We Know of Their Effects on Common Chronic Diseases?” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89, no. 5 (2009): 1607S–12S. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2677008/?tool=pubmed
C. Bamia, D. Trichopoulos, P. Ferrari, K. Overvad, L. Bjerregaard, A. Tjønneland, J. Halkjaer, “Dietary Patterns and Survival of Older Europeans: The EPIC-Elderly Study (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition),” Public Health Nutrition 10, no. 6 (2007): 590-98. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17381929
Rashmi Sinha, Amanda J. Cross, Barry I. Graubard, Michael F. Leitzmann, and Arthur Schatzkin, “Meat Intake and Mortality,” Archives of Internal Medicine 169, no. 6 (2009): 562–71. http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/169/6/562
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – SHARON PALMER, REGISTERED DIETICIAN
Sharon has created a career based on combining her two great loves: food and writing.
Often, these features include original recipes with nutritional analysis for publication. Sharon is also a passionate writer about food and environmental issues, having published a number of features on plant-based diets, hunger, agriculture, local and organic foods, eco-friendly culinary practices, sustainability, food safety, humane animal practices, and food security.
Over 750 of Sharon’s features have been published in a variety of publications, including Better Homes and Gardens, Prevention, Oxygen, LA Times, Cooking Smart, Delicious Living, Food Product Design, Today’s Dietitian, and CULINOLOGY. She has contributed to several books, including Food & Cultural Issues for the Culinary, Hospitality and Nutrition Professions (Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Inc. 2009). Sharon is also the editor of the award-winning health newsletter, Environmental Nutrition.
You can learn more about Sharon by visiting her website.
Sharon’s upcoming book The Plant-Powered Diet: The Lifelong Eating Plan for Achieving Optimal Health, Beginning Today (The Experiment, 2012) is due to hit bookshelves early in Summer 2012.