11 Reasons to Adopt a Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet

I don’t understand why asking people to eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet is considered drastic, while it is medically conservative to cut people open and put them on cholesterol lowering drugs for the rest of their lives.
— Dr. Dean Ornish
Image source: Pexels

Image source: Pexels

Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, and even well into my early adulthood in the '80s, I ate a typical American diet. Fast, processed foods, meat, dairy and pasta were standard fare, and I don't recall seeing many fresh fruits or vegetables around the house while growing up.

I will never know how much my Standard American Diet (aka SAD) contributed to my prostate cancer diagnosis at the age of 49, but the research -- and the reversal of my diagnosis two years after adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet -- suggests that a diet rich in plants and low in saturated fat and sugar is the best diet for health and longevity.

So, what does the research say about the benefits of the whole-food, plant-based diet?

  1. You'll be healthier: the Adventist Health Study-2 found that vegetarians had a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Eating red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) is associated with a sharp increase in rates of cancer and heart disease, and the American Cancer Society recommends eating a healthy diet for the prevention of cancer "with an emphasis on plant foods."

  2. You could live longer: a 2019 study published in the medical journal Lancet reported that unhealthy diets pose a greater risk of early death than unsafe sex, alcohol, drug and tobacco use combined.

  3. You'll maintain a healthy body weight and composition: fruits and vegetables have fewer calories (and more nutrients) per gram than fatty, processed and sweet foods, so you can eat more of them without fear of gaining the wrong kind of weight (fat vs. lean muscle mass).

  4. It's better for the environment: switching to a WFPB diet is the most effective thing an individual can do to fight climate change, according to a study in the journal Science. Another study, called Livestock's Long Shadow and published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, showed that livestock accounts for 35 to 40 percent of global human-caused methane emissions and 65 percent of global human-caused nitrous oxide emissions, which are two of the most potent greenhouse gases on Earth.

  5. It's more ethical: industrial farming -- treating pigs, cows and chickens like products that have value solely for our own consumption -- ignores the fact that they are sentient beings that can feel pain and distress. Keeping a pig or cow in a cage only big enough for them to stand and nurse future sirloin steaks or pork chops is cruel and inhumane.

  6. It's the most nutrient-dense diet: a WFPB diet constantly floods your body with the nutrients -- antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals -- it needs to thrive. These nutrients, not found in other non-plant foods, are crucial components of an anti-aging lifestyle.

  7. It increases your metabolism: vegetarians have been observed to have a slightly higher rate of metabolism during rest due to thermogenesis, i.e., they burn more of calories as body heat rather than storing them as body fat.

  8. You can prevent and even reverse diseaseDr. Dean Ornish's research has shown that eating a very low-fat, plant-based, vegetarian diet, combined with other lifestyle changes. could, in fact, reverse heart disease. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn succeeded in arresting and reversing heart disease in patients who were seriously ill

  9. It's naturally low in fat: the modern diet is about 42% fat (mostly saturated animal fat), which has more than double the calories of protein or complex carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables.

  10. It's often safer (and less expensive) than medical interventions: according to research compiled by Harvard University, prescription drugs pose a major health risk (ranking 4th, tied with stroke, as a leading cause of death). Properly prescribed drugs (not including misprescribing, overdosing, or self-prescribing) cause about 1.9 million hospitalizations a year in the US. Another 840,000 hospitalized patients are given drugs that cause serious adverse reactions. About 128,000 people die from drugs prescribed to them every year.

  11. You don't have to sacrifice performance: elite plant-based athletes are putting to lie the myth that you need animal protein in order to build muscle, get stronger and perform at a high level. I'm eagerly awaiting the premiere of the new documentary The Game Changers, which I hope will help to debunk this myth once and for all.

Dr. Valter Longo, author of The Longevity Diet, warns that the human body is constantly under siege. He urges us to think of our bodies as an army of cells that is constantly at war, and the enemy includes oxygen and other molecules that damage DNA and cells, and bacteria and viruses which are constantly trying to breach the immune system. When we lack or run low on certain nutrients the body’s repair, replacement and defense systems slow down or stop.

Eating a whole-food, plant-based diet (with adequate protein and healthy fats) ensures that we are optimally arming our bodies to hold this siege at bay.