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The Casual Herbivore: What a plant-based diet does to your body

With students skipping schools to organise climate strikes and millions of people pulling their weight towards saving the environment, there has never been a better time to bring plant-based diets in the limelight. 

Back in the day, we staunch vegetarians would get irritating remarks like “Oh, you don’t know what you’re missing!” or the dramatic “How would I survive if I just ate leaves?” from our meat-loving friends. The good news is – people are more receptive towards going meatless nowadays, because this diet is the best step to adopt if one desires to do anything tangible for environmental protection. 

The advantages of a plant-based diet ramify beyond saving the planet – this diet is immensely beneficial for our body as well. “Vegetarian” can include the consumption of eggs and dairy, so for this article, “plant-based” refers to a diet that composes mainly of plant-derived foods, with minor fractions of dairy or eggs.

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1 Lose extra weight

While I’m not endorsing a particular body shape here, it is true that many among us are trying to shed some extra kilos. If you belong to this category, ditch the meat. Numerous randomised studies conducted have attested the fact that those who follow plant-based diets lose more weight than those who don’t. Additionally, it has been seen that vegetarians have lower body mass index (BMI) values than those with omnivorous diets.

 

2 Your heart will thank you

Animal products are rich in saturated fats, which can clog up your arteries and inflate your risks of cardiovascular disease. A comprehensive study conducted by Loma Linda University in California, USA showed that there was a 55% reduced risk of hypertension and 25-49% reduced incidence of diabetes in vegetarians than non-vegetarians. 

 

3 Amp up your gut health

Our gut microbiome is a dynamic environment which influences almost every aspect of our health, from immunity to mood. The vegetarian diet generally consists of more fibre than regular omnivorous diets due to the increased intake of fruits and vegetables. Our gut bacteria thrive on this fibre, as well as the other phytonutrients plants are nutrient-dense in, so their growth positively influences our health. Beyond our gut bacteria, plant-based foods are easier to digest, so vegetarians generally have reduced bowel-related problems.

 

4 Happy moods

Professional health specialist Geeta Sidhu-Robbs enthusiastically vouches for a plant-based diet. She claims that vegetarians tend to have lower rates of depression or other mood disorders compared to non-vegetarians. A few theories can explain this: the high carbohydrate-to-protein ratio seen in plant-based diets facilitates the production of serotonin, the pivotal neurotransmitter that influences mood. Another theory is that arachidonic acid, a fat that is only found in animals, has been reported to increase risks of depression, hence avoiding animal-based products is likely to stave off the blues.

Having been a vegetarian for the past 21 years (my whole life, actually), I would never wish to change the way I eat. And to those who said that they cannot survive on plants, that is an absurd thought. 21 years is a long time, and I’m still in the pink of health.

 

Mallika Venkatramani – Arts & Lifestyle Editor

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