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Is a Plant-Based Diet Healthy? A look at the Facts

Written by Ali Donahue
Is a Plant-Based Diet Healthy? A look at the Facts

Cutting to the chase…

Is a plant-based diet healthy? Do we need animal products to get all our nutrients? We explore arguments against for and against a plant-based lifestyle, the different types of plant-based diets (and which is touted as healthiest), and what nutrition science tells us about all of the above.

Digging deeper

There are plenty of reasons to cut animal products from your diet: to preserve the environment, to save money on groceries, to protect animals from factory farming.

But according to this Oregon State University survey, the number-one motivation for cutting out animal products is personal health.

We get it. A healthy lifestyle combats obesity, improves mood, boosts energy, and even reduces the risk of a whole range of really, really, awful diseases. Best of all? It allows us to spend more time doing the things we love with the people we love.

But is a plant-based diet the best way to achieve your healthy lifestyle goals?

What Does a Plant-Based Diet Consist Of?

Let’s look at what a plant-based diet is.

Plant-based diets focus on plant foods over animal foods. It’s an umbrella term, encompassing everything from whole food plant-based (WFPB), to vegan, to the less “strict” vegetarian diet (which allows for some animal products like dairy and eggs).

The pro-veggie camp says plant foods are a healthier alternative to the Standard American Diet (yes it’s SAD). But there is another argument…

Planting Seeds of Doubt?

Naysayers suggest plant-based dieters are malnourished. Specifically, the thought is vegan diets don’t provide enough protein, calcium, iron, and zinc.

And yes, nutrient deficiency can happen, but with junk food veganism (Oreos are after all vegan) -- but should not be part of a well-rounded plant-based diet.

Beans, legumes, and nuts, on the other hand, are packed with protein.

Kale, butternut squash, and collard greens are loaded up with calcium.

There are plenty of iron-rich plant foods like kidney beans, raisins, oatmeal, and spinach.

For zinc, choose whole grains, tofu, seeds, or tempeh.

There’s one vital nutrient you can’t get from plant sources: vitamin b12. But B12 isn’t made by animals; it actually comes from bacteria and that bacteria hang out in animal manure and the digestive tracts of animals. Good news: you can get B12 without eating animal poop! Here are the best plant-based sources of B12.

What about nutrient quality? The heme iron found in meat is easier to absorb than plant-based iron, and some argue plant protein isn’t as complete as animal protein. These sound like compelling reasons to steer clear of plant-based diets, but the first one only tells part of the story, and the second one’s straight-up false.

Science disproved the theory of incomplete plant proteins. And the heme iron found in animal products may be more absorbable, but it’s linked to a number of serious diseases. Research also shows iron deficiency is just as common among meat eaters as plant-based dieters, so heme iron isn’t the deciding factor.

And finally, for those wanting to bulk up, healthy plant-based bodybuilders demonstrate you do not need to eat animals to be as strong as one.

Health benefits of a plant-based diet

OK, so are there benefits to a plant-based diet?

Heck yes there are! Check out the China Study for a comprehensive nutrition guide.

But for now, here are the cliff notes.

1. Healthy weight loss

39.8% of the US adult population suffers from obesity. And it’s not just about jeans getting tight; obesity has so many health risks and is one of the biggest killers in the country.

For healthy weight loss, plant-based is the way to go. They’re much lower in calories than animal products and higher in dietary fiber so you take in fewer calories and feel satisfied longer.

And shedding unwanted weight is just the beginning...

2. Reduced inflammation  

Chronic inflammation is another problem in America. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury, telling the immune system to repair damaged tissue and fight off infection. Many animal foods (including red meats, dairy products, and saturated fats) increase inflammation in the human body. And when inflammation becomes chronic, it causes disease like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more.

Plant-based foods, on the other hand, reduce inflammation!

3. Overall Wellness 

And health doesn’t stop with the physical body; at MamaSezz we believe mental and emotional health is just as important. Plant-based diets improve all of the above.

Omnivorous diets are low in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — chemicals are used to regulate brain-cell function. Not so with plant-based diets, rich in both EPA and DHA. Why’s this matter? Plant-based eaters experience fewer negative emotions and boosted mood overall.

Is Vegetarian (or Vegan) Enough?

Thanks to research like the China Study, we know plant-based diets are the healthier alternative. Though some plant-based diets are healthier than others...

A vegetarian diet still increases the risk of inflammation, thanks to dairy and saturated fat consumption. And while vegan plant-based diets may cut out harmful animal products altogether, they don’t necessarily promote nutritious eating (remember the oreos?).

The WFPB diet picks up where vegetarian and vegan diets end. It limits or avoids animal products, while also kicking processed foods to the curb: oils, refined carbohydrates, and non-natural sugars. It also means going to town on a complete range of whole, nutritionally dense fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes. Finally, this lifestyle promotes moving your body -- because there’s more to a healthy lifestyle than just what you eat!

WFPB For The Win

In the end...

  • Yes, a plant-based diet IS healthy.
  • You can DEFINITELY get enough protein (and other important nutrients) on a plant-based diet.
  • A Standard American Diet often leads to chronic diseases like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and more.
  • Cutting out meat and dairy can help prevent these serious diseases.
  • Not plant-based diets are equally nutritious; there’s plenty of vegan junk food and vegetarians are still at risk for chronic inflammation thanks to dairy and high saturated fat consumption.
  • Studies show a whole food plant-based diet is the best overall for your health!


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