5 Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
By Stephanie McKercher, MS, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Clif Bar & Company Consultant.
The ideas and suggestions written below are provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or care. The contents of this article are not intended to make health or nutrition claims about our products. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider before beginning any physical fitness or health and nutrition related activity.
What are the Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet?
Are you thinking about switching to a more plant-based diet? New science is emerging about the potential benefits of a plant-based lifestyle for both human health and the environment.
Plant based doesn’t have to mean plant exclusive! You don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian to reap the benefits of this lifestyle. There is scientific evidence that suggests eating more plants and choosing a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds can be advantageous for both your wellbeing and the health of the planet.1
What Can You Eat on a Plant-Based Diet?
A healthy, plant-based diet should start with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. With that said, no foods are off-limits. For some, a plant-based diet may mean eating less animal protein and more plants at each meal. For others, it may mean limiting animal foods to only special occasions. There is no one size fits all approach and many plant-based eaters continue to enjoy all their favorite foods, from pizza, to tacos, to burgers.
How is a Plant-Based Diet Different than Vegan / Vegetarian?
Vegan and vegetarian diets are considered plant-based, but not all plant-based diets are vegan or vegetarian.
A plant-based diet is different than a vegan or vegetarian eating pattern in that it doesn’t require the elimination of meat, fish, poultry and seafood. An individual who aligns with a plant-based lifestyle eats primarily plants but may also choose modest amounts of animal-derived foods on occasion. These plant-focused folks that enjoy a bit of meat are sometimes called flexitarians.
5 Healthy Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet:
Plant-based diets that are rich in whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds are generally high in beneficial fiber, essential nutrients, and phytonutrients (or plant nutrients). From gut health to heart health – this eating style has been linked to several potential benefits – which we’ll dive into below.
1. Plant-Based Diets Contribute to Filling Fiber
Most people know that fiber is important but still fall short of recommendations.2 One of the best ways to increase your fiber intake is to shift toward eating more plants. Many observational studies, in which scientists monitor a diet’s impact without controlling what people eat, have concluded that diets rich in plant foods may help support healthy blood sugar control.1 This may be because the fiber in plant foods helps slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream. In addition, high-fiber diets have been shown to help curb hunger and provide steady energy to keep you going during a busy day.
2. Plant-Based Diets Provide a Phytonutrient Boost
Phytonutrients are beneficial compounds found in plant foods, so it makes sense that eating more colorful fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes will up your intake. Examples of these plant nutrients include carotenoids, anthocyanins and flavonoids – and, emerging science suggests that certain phytonutrients can act as antioxidants and help promote heart health.
3. Plant-Based Diets Support Good Gut Health
Early research indicates that the gut microbiome shifts depending on the food we eat. In fact, vegans tend to have less inflammation, more “good” bacteria and less “bad” bacteria in their gut than meat eaters.3 These positive health effects may be thanks to plant-derived prebiotics, or non-digestible compounds which can help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
4. Plant-Based Diets Can Help Support Bone Health
Vegetarian diets tend to be high in bone-supporting vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, vitamin K, and vitamin C. Protein is another essential nutrient key for maintaining the structure of bones, and plant-based proteins - such as legumes and meat alternatives – have been shown to help maintain strong, healthy bones.4
5. Plant-Based Diets Provide Key Nutrients for Every Life Stage
Despite common myths, well-planned, plant-based lifestyles provide all the nutrients we need to thrive. It’s the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy) that plant-based diets (i.e. vegetarian diets) are nutritious and appropriate at every stage of life, including during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Vegetarian eating is also considered appropriate for athletes and highly active individuals who want to build muscle and recover quickly from a tough workout.5 On top of that, according to the Academy, plant-based lifestyles may provide overall wellness benefits and help maintain health.1
How is a Plant-Based Diet Better for the Environment?
Many scientists are encouraging people to eat more produce and less meat for the health of the planet. In 2019, an international team of health and science experts, called the EAT-Lancet Commission, proposed guidelines for feeding a growing population with a more sustainable food system. The commission recommended that most Westernized countries, such as the United States, reduce overall meat intake and shift toward eating more plants.6
A plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes provides essential nutrients and supports a healthy, sustainable food system. This is because plant-based diets tend to have lower greenhouse gas emissions than diets rich in animal foods. Compared to plant-based crops, raising livestock and producing meat has been shown to use more natural resources and have a greater impact on the environment.7
Opting for foods crafted with plant-based ingredients is one way to help support your individual health and the health of our planet. Organic, sustainably-sourced ingredients, like those found in Clif Bar and Company’s foods, have the power to both nourish our bodies and the outdoor spaces where we play.
- Melina V, Craig W, and Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian diet. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Dec;116(12):1970-1980.
- Quagliani D and Felt-Gunderson P. Closing America’s fiber intake gap. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016;11(1):80-85.
- Glick-Bower M and Yeh MC. The health advantage of a vegan diet: exploring the gut-microbiota connection. Nutrients. 2014; 6(11): 4822-38.
- Lousuebsakul-Matthews V, Thorpe D, Knutsen R, Beeson W, et al. Legumes and meat analogues consumption are associated with hip fracture risk independently of meat intake among Caucasian men and women: the Adventist Health Study-2. Public Health Nutr. 2013;17(10):2333-2343.
- Lynch H, Johnston C and Wharton C. Plant-based diets: considerations for environmental impact, protein quality, and exercise performance. Nutrients. 2018;10(12):1841.
- Willet W, Rockstrӧm J, Loken B, Springmann M, et al. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Lancet. 2019 Feb 2;393(10170):447-492.
- Ranganathan J., Vennard D, Waite W, Dumas P, et al. Shifting diets for a sustainable food future. World Resources Institute. 2016.