There is no single food that can reduce the risk of having or cure a disease. But an overall better eating habit–plant-based diets–can be beneficial for physical and mental health conditions while lowering negative impacts on Earth.
Harvard Health has defined plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns as a purposeful focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. Plant-based diet does not only equal a strictly vegetarian or vegan who never eats meat or dairy but also counts people who proportionately choose more from plant sources.
Different Plant-Based Diets
Not all plant-based diets are created equal. Experts have classified seven categories and approaches based on its components as well as objectives:
- Vegan: Excludes all animal products, especially meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.
- Raw food, vegan: Same exclusions as veganism as well as the exclusion of all foods cooked at temperatures greater than 118°F.
- Lacto-vegetarian: Excludes eggs, meat, seafood, and poultry and includes milk products.
- Ovo-vegetarian: Excludes meat, seafood, poultry, and dairy products and includes eggs.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian: Excludes meat, seafood, and poultry and includes eggs and dairy products.
- Mediterranean: Similar to whole-foods, plant-based diet but allows small amounts of chicken, dairy products, eggs, and red meat once or twice per month. Fish and olive oil are encouraged. Fat is not restricted.
- Whole-foods, plant-based, low-fat: Encourages plant foods in their whole form, especially vegetables, fruits, legumes, and seeds and nuts (in smaller amounts). For maximal health benefits this diet limits animal products. Total fat is generally restricted.
Several researches and studies mentioned in Harvard Health, The Permanente Journal, and Physicians Committee have shown that plant-based diets deliver physical and mental health benefits for all, and especially helpful for those with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, lipid disorders, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, certain cancers (specifically colon, breast, and prostate cancer), or depression, and in older adults. In other words, plant-based diets support the immune system, reduce inflammation, help maintain a healthy weight, and are high in fiber and phytonutrients (MD Anderson Cancer Center).
And plant-based diets are not only good for consumers but also for our planet. It is estimated that plant sources add up to 49% to the global food supply without expanding croplands while significantly reducing carbon emissions and waste byproducts because animal husbandry creates as much carbon emissions as the entire transportation sector (UCLA). These reductions would reduce the direct and indirect threats like pollution, global warming, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, and soil degradation to Earth’s health which in return improve our own wellness and living conditions.
The Bottom Line
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to healthy eating, people, especially patients should tailor the diet for individual needs and be mindful of the impacts we leave on Earth. It is generally recommended to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables that may include beans, legumes, seeds, nuts, and whole grains and avoiding or limiting animal products, added fats, oils, and refined, processed carbohydrates. The concerns about missing some certain nutritions such as vitamin B12 or omega-3 fatty acid in plant-based diets can be addressed by taking supplements from sustainable sources like Eversea’s algae-derived DHA.