5 Surprising Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
By Shireen Kassam
Many of the important benefits of a plant-based diet – particularly for climate health and animals – are well known. Yet despite the science being very clear, there remains confusion about the impact on human health.
We have long known for example, that a diet centered around whole plant-foods – fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, beans, nuts and seeds – significantly reduces the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain cancers. In fact, a low-fat plant-based diet is the only diet to have been shown to actually reverse established coronary artery disease. It has also been seen to reverse type 2 diabetes, enable effective and sustained weight loss without portion control or exercise, and arrest the progression of early stage prostate cancer.
Here are five additional benefits of a plant-based diet that may surprise you.
1. Improves Mental Health and Well-Being
Diet choices can have a major impact on mood and mental health, and there is a very good reason for this. Diet affects the health of our gut bacteria, which produce many of the hormones active in the brain. Gut bacteria thrive on fiber, which is only found in whole plant foods. So it is no surprise to find that a plant-based diet can benefit mental health.
In one U.S. study conducted at a large insurance company, participants who were overweight or had a history of type 2 diabetes were either prescribed a low-fat vegan diet or asked to continue their usual diet for 18 weeks. The results showed a significant improvement in mental health, well-being and work productivity in those on the vegan diet, as well as lower levels of depression and anxiety.
2. Reduces Arthritic Pain
Osteoarthritis, the painful breakdown of cartilage in the joints, appears to be an inevitable consequence of aging. It is not reversible but it is manageable, usually with pain medication and sometimes surgery.
So what role could a plant-based diet play here? One small study looking at the diet's impact showed a significant improvement in self-reported pain and functioning in people with osteoarthritis. One reason for this could be the anti-inflammatory properties of the micro-nutrients present in plant foods, as inflammation is the main cause of pain in arthritis. Meat-based diets have the opposite effect and, in general, increase the level of inflammation in the body.
3. Improves Period Pain in Women
So if a plant-based diet can improve arthritis pain, could it also perhaps improve other types of pain? Some research suggests it could help with period pain in women.
For this study, women swapped to a low-fat vegan diet for two menstrual cycles, and then back to their usual omnivorous diet for their next two. Pain duration and intensity and pre-menstrual symptoms were recorded and levels of a hormone affecting estrogen levels were measured.
On the low-fat vegan diet, women reported less pain duration and intensity, shorter duration of premenstrual symptoms and tests showed a lower level of estrogen. People are often surprised to hear that diet can impact hormone levels in the body. This study shows exactly that, and how lower estrogen levels can benefit women's health in a number of ways.
4. Reduces the Risk of Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of the most common causes of infection in the general population with the bacteria Escherichia coli (E coli) often being the culprit. Infection can occur because E coli from the intestine finds its way into the urinary tract. But UTIs can also be caused by E coli strains commonly found in farm animals such as chickens and pigs, so eating contaminated sources of meat can lead to infection.
Given the link between E coli and UTIs, It might seem obvious that those on a plant-based diet who avoid meat might have a lower risk of infection, but whether this was the case was not known for sure until recent research came out.
The analysis of several studies shows that vegetarians have a 16% lower risk of UTIs compared to non-vegetarians. This confirms previous data suggesting that meat-borne bacteria are a major contributor to the risk of UTIs. Increasingly these food borne bacteria are displaying antibiotic resistance.
5. Saves on Hospital Costs
So if those following a health plant-based diet have a lower risk of ill health then surely this will save on health costs.
In a large Taiwanese study, vegetarians were found to have a lower rate of outpatient visits, which translated into a 13% lower outpatient expenditure and a 15% lower total medical expenditure. So it is interesting to hypothesize the health economic impact of a plant-based diet on the UK's cash-strapped National Health Service.
In 2017, spending on healthcare in the UK totaled £197 billion (approximately $232 billion) – approximately £2,989 per person. If everyone in the country shifted to a vegetarian diet, this could (using the 15% reduction as a guide) reduce healthcare expenditure by £30 billion.
Plant-based diets, then, not only have the potential to dramatically improve human and planetary health, but could have significant benefits for the health of the economy too.
Shireen Kassam is a visiting professor with the Health and Wellbeing Research Group at the University of Winchester.
Disclosure statement: Shireen Kassam has received funding from Vegfund, Oatly and Lush.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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