Benefits such as prevention against heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer are all commonly known as being some of the top health perks of going plant-based. Though people choose to eat a vegan (or even vegetarian) diet for a variety of reasons, most everyone who consumes a large amount of whole, plant-based foods can testify that their overall health also improved when they made the transition away from animal-based foods. In fact, just the absence of red meat in a person’s diet has been shown to cut obesity risks, lower blood pressure, and even prevent early mortality. But that’s not all.
A plant-based diet can also do a number of other things for your health, small things you might not pay much attention to at first. If you’re considering the choice to eat less meat, dairy, eggs, fish, poultry, and consume more whole, plant-based foods, then you’re not just choosing to prevent the major forms of disease; you’re also choosing to improve these five, often overlooked, areas below.
1. Rockin’ Digestion
One of the major benefits of embracing a plant-based diet is the benefits it has on your digestive system. Animal-based foods are incredibly hard for the body to break down and process. This means it requires more effort from your digestive organs, which puts an unnecessary strain on your body. Since our digestive system controls our mood, energy, weight, and our overall health, taking care of it should be of utmost importance. When extra energy is needed to break down a food, a large percentage of the blood is diverted to the stomach to help the body cope. In the meantime, that means you have less energy and may also have indigestion, bloating, inflammation, or other digestion woes. A plant-based diet is made of mostly water, fiber, natural sugars, easier to digest sources of fats, and plant-based proteins. These foods are all naturally easier on the body and contribute to an overall healthier digestive tract.
It is important to note that the larger amount of fiber in a plant-based diet may take some getting used to. You might also need to moderate your servings of beans and legumes (and for some, even grains) at first when adjusting to a plant-based diet. These are very healthy foods, but should be introduced slowly into the diet since they’re some of the most powerful on the digestive system. Consume plenty of easy-to-digest foods such as: leafy greens, ripe fruits (preferably not with beans or legumes!), more alkaline grains such as wild rice, soaked oats and quinoa, and as many vegetables as you enjoy. Nuts, seeds, nut and seed butters, tempeh, tofu, and plant-based protein powders, and natural fats like coconut and avocados are also very helpful for digestion and reducing inflammation.
2. Mental Clarity
We need amino acids and protein for neurotransmitter function that fuels mental focus, but we need to be mindful of what sources we choose. Dairy-based foods contain casein and whey, two proteins found in cow’s milk that can contribute to brain fog for many people. Though whey is less controversial than casein (which the body can’t properly digest and has been linked to cancer), both can lead to brain fog shortly after consumption. Animal-based foods are among the most acidic forms of protein that you can give your body, so why not choose whole-food based, plant-based options that will give you energy, improve your mood, and be easier on your entire body? Hemp and pea protein are very easy for the body to break down, along with many protein and omega-3 rich seeds such as chia, hemp seeds, flax, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds (or tahini), along with almonds, quinoa, oats and even some vegetables like broccoli. Leafy greens are also a great source of amino acids and contribute to a healthier mood thanks to their high magnesium content.
3. Strong Nails
One of the main vitamins needed for healthy nails (along with skin and hair) is vitamin C. This vitamin helps the body efficiently produce collagen, and guess where it’s found? Plant-based foods! Plant-based sources of calcium such as chia seeds, oats, figs, oranges, beans, collard greens, and teff are also high in calcium that helps keep your nails strong. Other nutrients you need are zinc and iron, which you can easily find in plant-based foods such as beans, legumes, whole grains, greens, seeds, and some vegetables. To strengthen your nails and increase your body’s collagen stores through your diet, start by eating more mineral-rich foods and foods high in vitamin C as much as you can, which are largely found in fruits and veggies. Also focus on consuming good sources of fats such as nuts, avocados, seeds and coconut. And finally, be sure to opt for great sources of protein to help assist with collagen production such as seeds, greens, vegetables, legumes and beans (if you tolerate them), and some whole grains. Here’s a trick to try to incorporate these into your day without much hassle: Add 1-2 tablespoons of chia seeds, 1 citrus fruit or pineapple, a small serving of healthy fats, and 2 servings of leafy greens or broccoli to your meals here and there throughout the day. In no time, you’ll see stronger nails, and possibly even stronger, longer hair and clearer skin!
4. You Wake Up Easier!
It’s interesting that many who switch to a plant-based diet are bewildered at how much their sleep improves. But that’s not all; they also usually report waking up with much more ease instead of groggy and draggy. Why is this so? For one, it’s likely due to less work being put on your digestive organs to process all that animal protein. This means as you sleep, your body can actually, well – you know – rest, like it’s mean to do. Your hormones and digestive organs actually reset themselves as you sleep, but they need at least 3-4 hours before you go to bed to start the process at optimal levels. Since animal proteins can take up to double (and some, even triple) the time to digest that plant-based foods do, that means your body is still digesting when it prefers to be sleeping. Plus, sleep is the body’s natural time of detoxification where it “cleans house.” The less animal proteins, fats, and acidic properties it has to filter out, the clearer (and cleaner!) you’ll feel in the morning. Plus, you don’t need that cow’s milk to fall asleep: Plant-based options are packed with calcium, magnesium and amino acids that help you drift off just as easily without the harsh side effects of dairy.
5. Your Taste Buds Change
Believe it or not, your taste buds actually convert with you once you go plant-based. The body will normally crave more of what it’s used to, so if you eat a lot of animal-based or even acidic foods (sugar, processed foods), you’re likely to crave more of them. The more you give your body a certain food, the more it starts to desire that type of food, even if it’s not good for you. When you adopt a whole foods, plant-based diet, your taste buds may go through an adjustment period for a couple weeks, but after that, you’ll likely find that your body actually craves fresh, healthy foods. People that give up salt or sugar also normally attest that this is true. Though we all get cravings every now and then, it’s nothing like being physically addicted to a certain type of food where we can’t go a day without it. So train your taste buds to crave more nutritious foods and remember, your body can adapt to healthy foods when you provide it room to do so. Once you start to eat healthier foods, it won’t be long before you won’t be able to get enough!
So what are you waiting for? Give your health a makeover now and experience not just the major health benefits of going plant-based, but also the overlooked perks too. Need recipes? We’ve got you covered! Worried about nutrients? We have an entire plant-based nutrition guide to help you out.
Let us know if you have an uncommon health benefit you experienced when switching to a plant-based diet. We’d love to hear from you!
Lead Image Source: Kayla Seah/Flickr
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