The Plant Based Diet and Your Health
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It’s common knowledge that obesity is one of the major issues facing the western world today. There are all kinds of ways in which being obese damages your body but the two which stand out are diabetes and heart disease, both of which are already causing severe concern amongst health authorities and medical professionals. While it’s fair to say that genetic factors can play a role in both of these conditions, it’s now widely accepted that lifestyle, in particular diet and exercise (or lack thereof), can be crucial in determining whether or not a person succumbs to these conditions and, if so, to what extent.
Food is your body’s fuel
At a very basic level, food is what keeps us going in a very literal sense, hence putting food into our bodies is essentially the same as putting fuel in a motor vehicle or a battery into an electrical appliance. Use the wrong fuel or the wrong battery and the results will vary from degraded performance to inability to function to severe damage (like putting petrol in a diesel car). Much the same can be said about putting the wrong kind of food into your body. Likewise the quantity of fuel or food matters too. While there’s an obvious link between too little food and ill-health, there’s also a clear link between excessive food consumption and ill-health. When a person consumes more calories than they need, the body converts them into fat and while a certain level of fat is necessary and healthy, excessive fat levels place unnecessary strain on the body, including the heart.
Type II diabetes and heart disease are both linked with diets with high levels of sugar and fat
Sugar is a very high-calorie food and hence people with modern, sedentary, lifestyles will find it very difficult to burn it off and prevent it from being converted into fat. In particular, sweetened, carbonated beverages have been of concern to health authorities for some time now, hence the fact that the UK government introduced the “sugar tax” to try to limit their consumption. It will be interesting to see if this tax is extended to other high-sugar foods. The UK is far from the only country to have introduced a tax on sugar in some form, many other countries have done something similar and for much the same reason.
Fat consumption is also closely linked with diabetes and heart disease. In addition to the level of fat, the type of fat may also be significant. Studies have indicated that saturated fats and trans fatty acids are the major triggers for both diabetes and heart disease, while polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are lower risk, although there ongoing research and debate into this latter point. In either case, it has to be noted that excessive consumption of any sort of fat is a health risk.
A plant-based diet as protection against diabetes and heart disease
Over recent years, there has been a lot of focus on educating people on the importance of diet in the prevention and management of diabetes and heart disease. This education has been based on a number of scientific studies, all of which conveyed a similar message regarding sugar and fat. Given that meat in general and red meat in particular is often a significant source of fat, especially saturated fat, even before it’s cooked, there was and is an obvious and clear advantage to moving towards a plant-based diet purely for that reason. Similar comments apply to sugar. While fruits get their sweetness from natural sugars, these are, by definition, unrefined and fruits are also full of other forms of goodness, such as fiber, which are generally conspicuous by their absence from processed foods with a high sugar content. Fiber is actually very important from the point of view of maintaining a healthy digestive system and protecting against obesity, partly because it is essentially an internal cleanser and partly because it helps us to feel full, thereby encouraging us to eat less food. Scientists are now working to determine whether the advantages of a plant-based diet actually go further than just helping us to avoid bad nutritional habits. For example a study indicated that the consumption of green, leafy vegetables could significantly reduce the risk of diabetes. Another noted that vegetarians and vegans had similar intestinal microbial profiles which were distinct from the profiles of meat eaters and that this appeared to confer health benefits.
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Sugar and sugary drinks