Everyone and their uncle seems to recognize that noshing on plant-based foods does the body good, but there’s something about the sweet allure of a Twinkie or a bushel full of deep-fried, cheesy corn puffs that derails us from time to time. While we’re all entitled to be human and occasionally indulge in edibles that we know lack a luminous health halo, a remarkable thing happens when we commit almost exclusively to consuming whole, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. In addition to achieving a lower overall body mass index and weight compared to those who eat animal protein, blood pressure levels drop along with serum cholesterol levels and rates of cancer, hypertension and type 2 diabetes are minimized.
The typically low-calorie, low saturated fat and nutritionally dense edibles that form the foundation of a plant-based diet – teeming with anticarcinogens, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, and various other health-boosting properties -- are attributed with giving the body a protective insurance policy against the majority of today’s most notorious diseases. Essentially, many if not all of the major diet-related ailments that plague the Western world can be kept at bay when animal-based foods are excluded from the equation.
Formerly insulin-dependent diabetics who dine on plant-rich fare can achieve normal blood sugar levels, as can those who once had high homocysteine levels, an indication of a higher risk for stroke or heart attack. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health say that consuming even just one meat-free meal each week can significantly benefit one’s heart and weight to the tune of a 15% reduction in saturated fat.
Of course, it’s entirely possible to experience health issues if your idea of plant-based fare is gobbling up a steady menu of French fries, vegan donuts and ‘whole grain’ toaster tarts. Alas, junk food – even if it’s labeled vegetarian, vegan or certified organic – is still junk food. Convenience foods of many kinds, whether of animal or plant origin, tend to offer a catch 22 of sorts. Even following a relatively balanced diet consisting largely of instant gratification pantry stapes that are canned, prepared and packaged doesn’t necessarily do the body any favors, either. Surprisingly, those who munch on convenience edibles of that type (plant-based or not), end up inadvertently ingesting approximately 150 pounds of food additives in the span of just one year.
Beyond the issue of animal-based foods and their ability to potentially compromise one’s health, today’s consumers are faced with an even more amplified threat. “Every citizen of an industrialized nation now carries an average of 700 synthetic chemicals in his or her body from food, water and air -- most of which have not been well studied”. Experts suggest that with our society’s ongoing production and release of detrimental environmental chemicals, the human body is forced to work well beyond its current capabilities, which might explain why ailments like cancer, diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s are on the rise. In the course of a typical day, we are exposed to synthetic sweeteners, sugar, artificial colors, food preservatives, mercury, hormones, antibiotics, and countless other substances that impede the ability of our multiple systems to function optimally.
Fortunately, our bodies are innately endowed with a sophisticated filtration network -- including the skin and lymphatic, urinary, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems -- that remove waste products like food additives, free radicals, herbicides, pesticides, and heavy metals that can often compromise overall health. Researchers still feel, however, that our systems are ill-equipped to process the increased volume of toxins that we’re exposed to. By making plant-based edibles the focal point of the diet, however, residual toxins that are ultimately deposited in fat reserves, organs, muscles, joint, ligaments, and tendons can be successfully flushed from the body -- and even the hair.
Among the optimum foods recommended for effective detoxification of the human body, the vast majority are plant-based, such as:
- Nutrient-dense, gastrointestinal tract-purifying leafy greens like escarole, endive, and kale.
- Liver-cleansing, metabolism-boosting artichokes and glucosinolate-heavy cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
- Antioxidant-laden beets, which specifically aid the blood, intestines and liver.
- Lymphatic-purifying cranberries.
- Phytonutrient-rich grapes.
- The fruit and peels of immune-boosting lemons and oranges, which counteract carcinogenic compounds.
- Glutathione-packed spinach, avocados, potatoes, walnuts and asparagus, all of which help the body zap toxins stored in fat deposits.
Proponents of a highly detoxifying, plant-based diet say that eating food that is as close to its natural state as possible -- preferably organically raised -- cleanses, energizes and boosts one’s overall feeling of wellness. Dining mainly on fresh produce, whole grains and nuts exposes the body to copious amounts of dietary fiber, a substance which aids the absorption of nutrients, lowers blood cholesterol levels and sweeps waste through the gastrointestinal tract quite effectively. While researchers often regard the general sense of well being that plant eaters claim to experience as a placebo-like sensation, study after study continues to confirm that the health benefits of a diet that eschews animal protein is entirely legitimate.
In terms of weight management, plant eaters tend to have body mass indexes that are roughly 3% to 20% lower than that of meat eaters, which makes them less likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and other chronic diseases. Even when tracked throughout a five year period, those who dine mainly on plants gain the least amount of weight compared to their animal-protein based counterparts. For individuals interested in pursuing an effective weight loss plan, vegan diets are deemed even more successful than conventional low-fat plans that incorporate animal-based proteins. Furthermore, going vegan has been proven to facilitate sustained weight maintenance partially due to the higher volume of low-calorie food that participants can consume without compromising their weight goals.