Cellular Regulators

Plant-Based Diets and Health

What does the research show? 

Plant-based diets have increased considerably in popularity over the past decade, with millions of individuals now adhering to a diet that is either entirely comprised of plants or is predominantly comprised of plants—the latter often referred to as a “plant-forward” diet. While a nutrition plan consisting of plant foods may seem restrictive to some, the reality is that there is a great variety of foods to choose from, including all fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. A creative person can build many tasty and nutritious meals and snacks using plants alone, and the health benefits of doing so are many. 

The types of plant-based nutrition programs that most people are familiar with include veganism and vegetarianism. The former is more restrictive and is defined as “a way of living” that attempts to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty, whether for food, clothing, or any other purpose. Therefore, those choosing a vegan lifestyle will not only restrict the eating of all animal products (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy) but also the wearing of clothing or shoes, or use of a handbag, as examples, made from animal products. A vegetarian diet is a less restrictive version of a vegan plan and generally excludes the eating of meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy. However, there are several different practices of vegetarianism, and many allow for certain animal products to be consumed. 

While some individuals adopt a vegan or vegetarian plan for environmental reasons or ethical issues, such as animal rights, most do so because they believe their health will be enhanced through the elimination/minimization of animal products and the consumption of more plants. It may be the latter practice (the consumption of high quantities of plants) that may be most helpful when it comes to enhancing health, rather than the elimination of animal products. In this way, a diet practice referred to as “plant-forward” eating has come into favor in recent years. This plan calls for the majority of calories to be consumed as plants, with an overall “clean eating” approach, consisting of minimal sugar intake. Meat and other animal proteins are consumed sparingly. The animal products that are consumed are chosen carefully, and are typically of high quality (e.g., lean meats, fish, low-sugar yogurt). The remaining foods are also of high quality and minimally processed (i.e., few additives and preservatives, little sugar). This is important, as many non-animal foods can be very unhealthy if care is not taken to make the correct selections (i.e., vending machine foods and sugar-laden drinks are examples that should be avoided if health is a priority). 

Health Benefits of Plant-Based Foods 

The good news for those who choose to consume an abundance of plant-based foods, ideally of different varieties, is that their efforts will be met with many noted health benefits. By default, the intake of a high quantity of plants will contain high amounts of dietary fiber, in addition to high quantities of antioxidant vitamins and minerals. The fiber will aid in gut health and develop a strong and diverse microbiome, which can favorably impact immunity. The antioxidants will help to minimize the potential harm of free radicals and ensuing oxidative stress and cellular damage. 

In addition to the above, plant-based diets have been met with weight loss and a greater ability to maintain weight over time. This is likely due to the high fiber content of these diets, which tend to improve satiety. With plants, high quantities of food can be consumed, for minimal calories. This can be a welcome scenario when attempting to keep calories low for purposes of weight loss. 

The lower body weight is often met with a reduction in blood pressure, systemic inflammation, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar. With regards to the blood pressure lowering effect, body mass certainly can have an influence on this but the increase in dietary nitrates found in plants may also allow for this effect. Specific to blood cholesterol, eliminating or reducing dietary cholesterol, coupled with the increase in dietary fiber, is likely the mechanism at work here. Inflammation may be reduced as a function of the reduction in saturated fat, while eating more fiber, whole grains, and low-glycemic index vegetables appears to aid in blood sugar lowering. 

While the above effects have been reported in clinical trials of individuals adhering to plant based diets, other effects have also been noted. Although subjective, these are worth noting, as they are very practical and may motivate people to continue on such plans. These include things like improved skin health and complexion, enhanced “energy” and focus, and improved overall mood and well-being. Perhaps most importantly, intake of plant-based diets has been noted to extend lifespan, which seems to be a strong consideration for those choosing to adopt this lifestyle approach to eating. 


Plant-based diets have greatly increased in popularity in recent years, with more people adopting this approach each day. Plant-forward diets are not nearly as stringent but are also met with very good results—primarily due to the fact that the quantity of animal protein is low and of high quality, and plants are consumed in abundance. The intake of plants provides an ample supply of fiber and micronutrients, which can aid overall health. While many people find they simply feel better when adopting a plant-based nutrition plan, the scientific evidence also supports this approach as a method to aid overall health. 


The material presented in this article is for general information purposes only. The information is not intended to provide medical advice but rather to provide individuals with information to better understand the impact of nutrition on health. Individuals should consult with their healthcare provider prior to beginning any new nutrition, exercise, or dietary supplementation program—in particular those who have medical conditions or use medication. No liability is assumed.

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