Why You May Want to Consider a Plant Based Diet

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Dorine Lam, RDN, MS, MPH


Various plant based diet and vegetables including lime, spinach, and sproutsWith all the research indicating how important a healthy lifestyle is for optimal wellness, many people are turning to healthier living habits that include better diets, more exercise, and less stress. But what does the term “better diet” actually mean? There seem to be so many varieties of diets available, choosing the best one for you and your family is often a difficult task. However, doctors, scientists, and nutritionists have discovered a lot of benefits from consuming a plant based diet. According to new research, having a healthy gut and intestinal tract from eating more plant-based foods can have more impact on your health than the genes you inherit from birth.

What is a Plant Based Diet?

For starters, eating a “plant based diet” does not always mean you will be eating as a strict vegetarian or vegan, although this is often the misconception people get when they hear this term. Vegetarianism is a very healthy choice as well, but people often avoid it because of concerns that it will be very strict and difficult.

Eating a plant based diet means that the majority of your food will be plant-based, but not necessarily all. Plants include fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes, and nuts and seeds. Within these 3 plant-based food groups you will find every bit of nutrition your body needs to be healthy, and with a little creativity, you can make a wide variety of meals. A plant based diet can be as unique as the person who chooses it.

The Benefits of Switching to A Plant Based Diet

Overall, plant based diets have been linked to better health than diets closer to the average all-American diet. Consuming meals and snacks that are primarily plant-based have been shown to be heart healthy, lower risks for cancer, aid in weight loss, and even strengthen the immune system.

Plants are Good for the Heart

Plant compounds and the high levels of dietary fiber they contain have unique nutrients that can protect the heart. Dried beans and lentils lower blood cholesterol and can help reduce the inflammation that leads to heart disease. Many plants contain polyphenols that help lower blood pressure.

One study involving over four million people from around the world found evidence of a connection between a traditional Mediterranean diet and lower rates of heart disease and related deaths. The eating habits of these participants consisted mainly of plant based diets, with meat and dairy products consumed less than one time per day.

A Plant Based Diet May Reduce Cancer Risk

Eating a plant based diet has proven to be an essential foundation for reducing cancer risks. It has been found that different forms of dietary fibers and whole grains can offer protection against colon cancer and other types of cancers. Several mechanisms have been found through laboratory testing indicating plant nutrients and compounds that can help prevent cells from developing into cancer including:

  • Changes in the expression of tumor suppressors
  • Influencing cell signaling pathway
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Aiding in the self-destruction of abnormal cells.

Plant Based Diets are Great for Managing Weight

Because plants are low-calorie, high-fiber foods, they are an excellent way to lose weight naturally and keep it off. If we eat more foods high in fiber, the less food we need to eat. You will be cutting calories without the need to cut meals and snacks or go hungry. Many plant-based foods include healthy sources of fats and oils that can help curb hunger.

However, it is important to remember not to overdo these low-calorie snacks as they too can add up. Many times habits are hard to break, and people eat even if they are not hungry.

Plants are a Good Source of Protein

Contrary to popular belief, choosing plant foods alone, or in addition to small portions of meat and dairy products can provide a sufficient amount of protein to maintain muscle composition.

The top sources of plant-based protein include:

    A woman holding a waist measuring tape around her waist and plant based diet next to her

  • Soy products such as tofu, edamame, and tempeh
  • Red and green lentils
  • Chickpeas and hummus
  • Peanuts and almonds
  • Spirulina
  • Quinoa
  • Chia, hemp, and flax seeds
  • Leafy greens, dark-colored veggies, and mushrooms.

Plant Based Diets Are Cheap and Convenient

Choosing a plant-based diet is actually more feasible than many people expect them to be for many reasons.

  • They are cost-efficient. Meat is usually one of the most expensive items on your shopping list. Whether you choose to go meatless a few meals, or decrease meat portions, going plant-based is a great way to save money.
  • Beans, peas, and lentils can be bought at very low prices.
  • You may initially think fruits and vegetables are pricey, but in comparison to a bag of chips, a box of cookies, or a container of ice cream, they are very affordable options.
  • Rather than choosing ready-to-eat, flavored options, choose simple food items such as oatmeal, yogurt, or shredded wheat and add your own flavorings such as nuts, cinnamon, or berries.
  • Cook at home! The salad you buy in a restaurant for $12 can be made for under $5 in your kitchen.

Plant Foods Help Your Gut

You are what you eat: it’s not just a saying. Research has clearly indicated that what we eat controls our body’s systems. It has been proven that by eating a plant based diet, we can improve our gut health along with decreasing our chances of contracting a number of diseases.

The GI tract is extremely important. It regulates many bodily functions from nutrient absorption to hormone production and is part of the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response System. It works together with the body’s neurotransmitters, the endocrine system, the detoxification system, the metabolic system, and the inflammatory response system. In other words, when the GI tract is functioning properly, it helps the entire body maintain optimal health.

young woman in yoga class benefitting from plant based dietThe gastrointestinal tract is the largest immune organ in the body with a surface area averaging 100-130 square feet in size. It is the most dynamic immunological environment and has several important responsibilities. It metabolizes food for better absorption, produces vitamins for the body, and aids in many dietary functions in our overall health. By maintaining a healthy balance of good bacteria in our digestive systems, we are less likely to experience damage to our bodies.

When we eat healthy diets consisting of mostly plant based foods, we are nourishing the good bacteria so that they can continue to flourish.

  • A healthy GI tract can block out the growth of the bad bacterium.
  • Plant foods increase the diversity of gut bacteria.
  • Strengthening the gut can improve overall immunity and reduce autoimmunity.
  • A healthy gut better synthesizes important vitamins and nutrients.

Many researchers are now saying that GI health is one of the most important elements of our overall health and something we can interact with and change for the better.

Why AFS Sufferers Benefit From Eating a Plant-Based Diet

Eating properly is essential for everyone, but vital for those who suffer from chronic illnesses such as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), a stress-induced ailment that injures the adrenals leaving the body in a chronically fatigued state. Working towards a healthy GI tract is key to regaining health and strengthening the body.

One thing that can be caused by poor nutrition and an unbalanced NEM stress response system is an overactivation of the inflammation circuit, which consists of the immune system, GI tract, and the microbiome. Much chronic inflammation starts in the GI tract and spreads to different parts of the body.

Imbalances in the GI tract can lead to leaky gut, where the lining of the gut is permeated by things that are not supposed to pass through into the bloodstream. These food particles and other substances can trigger the body’s immune system, resulting in inflammation, allergies, and autoimmunity. In some instances, these toxins can even enter the brain and cause anxiety, depression, and other neurological issues. Digestion can become impaired. The body can no longer effectively absorb nutrients and health begins to suffer.

Woman with plant based diet looking healthyA high-fiber, organic plant based diet is one of the best things you can do for the GI ecosystem when it is dealing with states such as AFS. However, it is important to obtain dietary guidance to ensure what you are eating is not making you sicker. Health care practitioners who specialize in adrenal fatigue can lead you in the right direction for proper nutrition guidelines. They can help you find long-term plant-based diets that suit your style of eating and preferences, as it is important to discover what works for you.

AFS sufferers must be extremely careful with the foods they eat as their bodies are very sensitive and prone to food allergies. When taking in more plant-based foods, sufferers must closely monitor their bodies and watch for signs of sensitivities developing. It’s best to try one new food at a time so you can identify the source of any issues.

You can heal the GI tract and suppress chronic inflammation by increasing plant-based foods, while eliminating the foods that you find you are sensitive to. By making these dietary adjustments, people can heal themselves from adrenal fatigue and GI issues.

Making the Switch

It is recommended that when switching to a plant-based diet, you do not make dramatic changes that don’t feel comfortable, as they are less likely to become habits. Rather, make gradual shifts with small proportions of vegetables, grains, and meats, adding in more meatless meals as time goes by.

When switching to a plant based diet it is also recommended to:

  • Incorporate a variety of plants in your diet as each one has different nutrients to offer.
  • Avoid highly processed plant foods such as potato chips, crackers, and cookies as they don’t provide the health benefits that unprocessed plant foods provide.
  • Avoid any plant foods with large amounts of added sugars and fat. This can lead to eating excessive calories and put added pressure on your body’s digestion system and other organs.

Switching to a plant-based diet is one of the best choices you can make for your health. Some of the most flavorful and inspirational cuisines in the world are plant-based including Italian, Greek, Chinese, and Indian dishes. With a little garlic, onion, herbs, and spices, you can make any vegetable, grain, or bean dish delicious.

 
© Copyright 2015 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Yes, eating a plant-based diet is highly recommended by specialists and nutritionists for those suffering from chronic illnesses such as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. It provides all the needed nutrition without the added stress on the body the conventional American diet can produce.


Plant based diet