Benefits of a Whole Food Plant Based Diet by Dr. Seeta Shah
Seeta, a medical doctor, who has followed a whole food plant based (WFPB) diet for 5 years, shares the benefits she experiences with this particular way of eating.
WHAT IS A WFPB DIET?
Firstly, let us understand what a whole food plant- based (WFPB) diet is. Isn’t that the same as a Vegan diet I hear you say? Well, not exactly… A WFPB diet is one that is free of processed foods, sugar, oil and salt, so no ‘SOS’ as I like to say! Now, I’m not saying that you have to stick religiously to this, and at times I do have vegan foods that wouldn’t be classed as being WFPB, but on the whole, aiming to have a WFPB diet will do you wonders.
Whether you decide to do it for the animals, for your health or for the planet, you will be making a positive impact on all of these areas indirectly.
WHY IS A WFPB DIET RECOMMENDED? LET’S GO THROUGH THE ‘ABC’s’
Animals - Every year, billions of animals get killed. This is not only for the meat industry, but also for the dairy and egg industry, for clothes, furniture, etc. A lot of animals also get killed as they are just not worth anything for the industry such as male calves in the dairy industry. In this day and age, where access to vegan produce is so readily available, this level of suffering should just not be happening.
‘But are animal products the only way I can get my protein?’ I have heard this many times…
A big misconception that many people have is that vegans do not get enough protein. This is not the case. Yes, animal protein contains all of the essential amino acids (protein building blocks), however it also contains saturated fats and high levels of cholesterol – things that plant protein on a whole doesn’t. An important note to make is that plants are in fact the primary source of essential amino acids – and the only way animal protein has these is by the animals consuming the plants! So by eating the plants, essentially you are cutting out the ‘middle man’ and getting to the primary source. By eating a variety of plant sources, you can easily get all of your amino acids in! The key is variety when it comes to a WFPB diet. A good way to make sure you are doing this is to ‘eat the rainbow’, meaning your plate should be full of different coloured fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains. Not only is this appealing to the eye, but also great for your body!
A great source of plant based protein also, is Moringa Oliefera, also known as the drumstick tree. Dhow Nature Foods Moringa Powder is high in protein and contains all the 9 essential amino acids making it ideal for muscle growth!
‘Okay I get the protein bit, but what about calcium? Surely I need to drink milk for that…’
No! This is another misconception that many have. Milk consumption has actually been shown to increase the risk of fractures as well as osteoporosis as stated in Sellmeyer et al. 2001, Lanou 2009.
By leading a WFPB diet, you will not be part of the suffering of animals and will be able to explore new ways of eating and get to experiment with foods you otherwise would not have done.
Benefits for your health- The benefits to your health are endless! Not only can a WFPB diet help your physical health, but also your mental and emotional health too. I will go through a few here which I feel are most relevant;
- Weight loss; A WFPB diet has been shown to be a sustainable way to reduce weight, giving you lasting results. This is not a ‘Yo-Yo’ diet. Whole plant foods are naturally lower in calories and higher in nutrients. Additionally, due to their high fibre and water content, this helps to form bulk in your stomach, making you feel full. So, you are taking in fewer calories but feeling full, hence it is a sustainable way to lose weight.
- High blood pressure; Extensive studies such as ‘The Adventist Health Study 2’ have shown that vegans have a much lower rate of high blood pressure than those who consume animal products. This correlates to lower incidence of heart disease amongst those following a WFPB diet. Factors in a WFPB diet which can contribute to lower blood pressure and heart disease include higher levels of nutrients such as potassium, magnesium and nitrates. Nitrates (e.g. from cruciferous veg, beetroot) help with the production of nitric oxide, which relaxes and can protect against the furring and narrowing of blood vessels.
- Diabetes; Type 2 diabetes is when the body is unable to control blood sugars properly. This is largely due to the body not responding to a hormone called insulin, which helps control sugars. Saturated fats (predominantly found in meat, eggs and dairy) resist the functioning of insulin, termed insulin resistance, leading to high sugar levels. There is plenty of research, including from The Adventist Health Study 2, showing how a WFPB diet can effectively prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes.
- Anxiety and Low mood; mental health problems are on the rise, with our fast-paced and stressful lifestyles being a big contributing factor to this. General lifestyle changes including a WFPB diet can help stress levels, anxiety and low mood. One study showed that lower intakes of animal products are associated with better mood. A GEICO study which split workers into a control group and intervention group, which received advice on a plant based diet, resulted in the latter having reduced stress, anxiety and overall better quality of life.
Climate - We are all now aware of climate change and many of us are making steps in the right direction such as recycling, switching to hybrid cars, cycling more and being aware of the harm plastic has on our planet. This is great! But, is it enough? Sadly, no. Animal agriculture contributes immensely to the carbon footprint. To put this into perspective, to produce 1kg of beef you need 15.5K litres of water, whereas to produce 1kg of potatoes you need 250 litres of water. Organisations such as the United Nations also talk about the benefits of a plant based diet for the climate.
I stumbled across Dhow products whilst on Instagram and have fallen in love with what they do and their products. Not only do they serve the climate by having recyclable packaging, but also provide us with spices in their purest forms. The role spices have on our health is amazing! Such a small amount can make such a difference! I highly recommend using a variety of spices in your cooking wherever you can. I'll leave you all with a top tip- Combine turmeric and black pepper together as the piperine in black pepper allows the curcumin found in turmeric to circulate in your bloodstream for longer, giving your body its maximum effects.
Disclaimer; The information shared is not intended to replace the advice of your medical practitioner. Please inform and discuss with your medical practitioner when embarking on lifestyle changes.
Seeta Shah, MBChB, BSc (Hons)