If you’re already eating meatless most of the week (or have been taking part in Meatless Mondays for a while), then you’re already well on your way to a plant-based diet. Incorporating more vegetables into your daily meals — and especially using them to replace meat-based dishes — has been a common trend among the healthy eating community, with the rise of vegan and vegetarian dishes and restaurants across the country.
But more than just being trendy and extremely colorful, plant-based diets can actually save your life, according to doctors. Yes, your mom always told you to eat your vegetables, but there’s more to it than just packing your plate with colorful plants.
The American Society for Nutrition held their annual “Nutrition” meeting and found that not only did plant-based diets help with eliminating and preventing disease, but with time, they also led to an overall healthier life and improved lifespan. How’s that for a win? Here’s what the Academy revealed about eating your fruits and vegetables:
According to the ASN, the biggest benefit of eating a plant-based diet comes right to your heart. Not only does a plant-based diet lead to a lower risk of coronary disease, but it also contributes to less plaque in your arteries and even a lower risk of diabetes.
Because meats — and specifically red meat — contributes to heart disease, studies show, eating less red meat, in general, can help to save your heart. Replace meat with vegetarian options — say, a mushroom in place of a burger, carrots in the place of a hot dog, or even an eggplant in place of lamb — can actually help to improve the condition of your heart.
As of 2008, the Cleveland Clinic estimated that “3.2% of U.S. adults, or 7.3 million people, follow a vegetarian diet. Approximately 0.5%, or 1 million, of those are vegans. In addition, 10% of adults in America, or 22.8 million people, say they largely follow a vegetarian-inclined diet.”
While the vegetarian diet does have some downsides — it’s been found that vegetarians or vegans have low levels of calcium, iron, and vitamin B-12 and D, but all can be supplemented with vitamins and specific foods that are high in those nutrients.
However, the American Society for Nutrition also made it a point to showcase that it’s not just about the number of vegetables you consume per week, but also their quality.
According to Fang Fang Zhang, who presented the research at the meeting, the higher quality the foods you’re consuming (organic and non-GMO all fall into this “better for you” category”), the better the effects you’ll experience. In particular, higher quality vegetables and foods you’re eating can actually help to lower your mortality by 30 percent — compare that to higher quality animal-based foods, which have little to no effect on extending your lifespan.
But by simply increasing the quality of your veggies, and by adding more of them into your weekly meal plan, you can substantially improve your health.