science   ·   28. October 2021

eating plants: why diet is the most effective intervention of all

is your food doubling up as your medicine?

There are an increasing number of studies that highlight the associations between a diet centred around the eating of plants, and benefits to individual mood, energy, and overall health.

What’s more is that, across the board, all research tends to point towards a few key common themes when it comes to following a healthy diet, namely: one that is low in saturated fat, low in trans fat, low in processed foods, and high in plants (1,2,3,4,5).

And while the definition can vary, a plant-based diet typically refers to individuals who consume little to no animal products, relying primarily (or exclusively) on the consumption of plants. 

According to the British Dietetic Association, a plant-based diet can be considered safe and nutritionally adequate for all stages of human life, so long as it’s done in a sustainable way (6). 

but how exactly is eating plants so good for health? 

In a recent body of peer-reviewed research, it was found that individuals on a plant-based diet experienced significantly fewer negative emotions, and reported an elevation in mood more frequently when compared to their omnivorous counterparts (7). 

Furthermore, studies suggest that even people who just eat predominantly plant-based are scientifically less likely to suffer from stress and the effects of anxiety. 

For perspective, meat-eating individuals who switched to a plant-based diet for just two week experienced a noticeable reduction in stress levels after only that short period of time— experiment results that one would be hard-pressed to try and match via other forms of minor, risk-free intervention (8).

Plant-based diets have also been further linked to advantages such as living longer and avoiding many of the leading forms of killer chronic disease, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes (9). 

For that reason, many of these chronic, supposed “no-cure” diseases can be both prevented and often reversed simply by undergoing a drastic shift in diet (taken at the pace that suits you and your lifestyle, of course)

Interestingly, people eating a high quantity of plant-based foods also suffer lower rates of so called, “inconvenience ills” (ills such as ulcers, migraines, hemorrhoids, and varicose veins), as well as fewer surgeries, and more infrequent hospitalizations, of both major and minor kinds (10). 

On top of this, the plant-based community is estimated to have around half the odds of requiring drugs in order to function day-to-day — including sleeping pills, laxatives, antacids, pain medications, aspirin, insulin, and blood pressure tablets (11).

It makes sense why a person avoiding all these hassles might experience an elevation in overall life satisfaction and mood…

What’s more, however, is that the consumption of higher quantities of fruits and vegetables has unequivocally been shown to result in levels of increased vigor, calmness and general happiness.

In fact, it’s theorized that a higher consumption of vegetables (somewhere around 6–10 servings per day) may offer a decrease in the risk of developing depression by up to 62% (12, 13).

If this is indeed the case — as the journal Nutritional Neuroscience concludes — then switching to a plant-based and/or vegan diet can and should be considered a “non-invasive, natural and inexpensive therapeutic means” of supporting of a healthy and happy body and brain (14).

the plant-based takeaways

For many of us, plants already provide a significant portion of our daily nutrition needs, and anyone who relies on simple spices to flavour their cooking is already taking the first steps in utilising herbal medicine. 

“I believe in the magic of preparation. You can make just about any foods taste wonderful by adding herbs and spices. Experiment with garlic, cilantro, basil and other fresh herbs on vegetables to make them taste great.” — Jorge Cruise

Better suited as a form of treatment within the human body, herbal medicines avoid many of the pitfalls associated with chemically manufactured drugs — be that tolerance, dependence, or the risk certain side effects pose for long-term health.

Common garden herbs such as sage, lavender, basil, and mint have been used in traditional medicinal practices for thousands and thousands of years, but this is largely where the benefits of a plant-based diet only begin.

In reality, all plant foods contain significantly higher levels of ORAC (aka "antioxidants") which have one of the single most important effects on disease prevention within the body. 

Now, we hear a lot of buzz about antioxidants; that word, among others in the wellness sphere, is thrown around so much on health blogs and food packaging that we begin to forget what it really means; too often we rarely ever get a clear explanation of the role these free-radical scavenging compounds serve within the human body. 

Free radicals are the molecules responsible for mutations within the body that can wreak havoc on lipids, proteins, and DNA, raising the likelihood of disease and cancer, in the process. 

By nature, they are highly unstable and damage the healthy cells within our body as a result. This is how and where the development of chronic illness begins to crop up; it’s the result of us being exposed to too many free radicals — a problem that eating a diet high in whole, unprocessed plant foods can help to account for and fix (15).

People eating primarily plant-based should therefore source their protein from legumes, vegetables, seeds, and nuts; get their calcium from tofu, leafy greens, and nut milks; and aim to eat between 30-40 different plant foods per week, so as to promote and maintain optimal health. 

Click around on the sofi blog for information on the disconnect between plant-based medicine and mainstream health, or listen to our sofi talks for insights and perspective from our in-house herbalists!


References: 

  1. P J Tuso, M H Ismail, B P Ha, C Bartolotto. Nutritional update for physicians: Plant-based diets. Perm J 2013 17(2):61–66.
  2. Kaiser Permanente. The Plant-Based Diet a healthier way to eat. Kaiser Permanente 1–20. Kaiser Permanente. The Plant-Based Diet a healthier way to eat. Kaiser Permanente 1–20.
  3. A Drewnowski, J Hill, B Wansink, R Murray, C Diekman. Achieve Better Health With Nutrient-Rich Foods. Nutrition Today: January/February 2012 — Volume 47 — Issue 1 — p 23–29.
  4. D C Willcox, B J Willcox, H Todoriki, M Suzuki. The Okinawan diet: health implications of a low-calorie, nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich dietary pattern low in glycemic load. J Am Coll Nutr. 2009 Aug;28.
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  6. BDA, 2021. The British Dietetic Association confirms well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages. [online] 
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