Regardless of your interpretation, one thing holds true: Adopting a mostly meat-free diet that’s centered primarily around vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, is a positive step for your health—and the planet.
Here are six research-backed benefits of plant-based diets:
They protect against disease.
In addition to being low in saturated fat, plant-based diets include far more veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes, soy products, nuts and seeds than meat-centric eating approaches. In fact, one study found that the vegetarian diet had 25 more servings of vegetables, 14 more servings of whole grains, and eight more servings of fruit per week!
These foods are loaded with beneficial nutrients like fiber and powerful compounds like antioxidants, which protect against cell damage and reduce your risk for several chronic diseases, including:
- Certain cardiovascular diseases
- Some cancers, like colon and breast
- Type 2 diabetes
- Digestive diseases
They’re good for your brain.
According to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in animal products like meat and dairy lowers the risk of cognitive decline in later life. Other studies have established a link between a healthy diet full of plant-based foods with a reduced risk of dementia.
They help keep your weight in check.
If you want to lose weight, skip the fad diets and pick up some plants: People who eat a primarily plant-based diet tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and lower rates of obesity than those who eat meat.
And although a vegan diet is associated with the lowest BMI, you don’t have to go that extreme to reap the rewards: Lacto-ovo vegetarians (those who eat eggs and dairy foods) and pescatarians (those who eat fish but no meat or poultry) tend to have lower BMIs than non-vegetarians as well.
In addition to containing fewer calories than the same volume of animal-derived foods, plant-based foods tend to contain more filling fiber, slow-digesting complex carbohydrates and water, which means they help keep you feeling fuller longer—an important factor in weight loss and maintenance.
They’re less expensive.
Following a plant-based diet isn’t just good for your body, it’s good for your wallet, too: According to a study in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, meat-eaters can save a whopping $750 per year simply by switching to a plant-based diet.
Another study published in The Lancet Planetary Health, revealed that adopting a vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian diet (a flexible alternative to being a vegetarian that focuses primarily on fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes and nuts, but that includes occasional meat consumption) could cut your grocery and food bills as much as one third.
On a broader scale, a global switch to diets focused more on fruits and vegetables, and less on meat, dairy and eggs, could save $1.5 trillion per year, says the World Animal Foundation .
They’re better for the environment.
Plant-based diets use fewer natural resources and are associated with far less environmental destruction than diets rich in animal products. So much so that in 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended individuals move away from animal products toward plant-based diets. Their position: “A dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact (greenhouse gas emissions and energy, land and water use) than is the current average U.S. diet.”
According to the World Animal Foundation , if everyone switched to a vegetarian diet (which excludes meat but not eggs and dairy), emissions would be reduced by 44 percent. The same source reports that a worldwide change to a vegan diet would have the biggest environmental impact, reducing emissions by a whopping 55 percent.
Anyone can go plant-based.
With all of these benefits, who wouldn’t want to get in on the plant-based action? The good news is that everyone can. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, plant-based diets are appropriate for all stages of life, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and even for athletes.
If you do opt to adopt a plant-based lifestyle, it’s a good idea to work closely with your doctor or a registered dietitian to ensure you’re getting all the nutrition you need.