Updated: May 18
There are so many lifestyle choices out there. Pescatarian. Lacto-ovo-vegetarian. Lacto-vegetarian. Octo-vegetarian. Vegan. Plant-based. Whole food plant-based. What makes a plant-based lifestyle so beneficial?
Have you ever thought about adopting a plant-based lifestyle? If you answered "yes," this is for you. If you answered "no," I'd suggest reading on if you genuinely care about your health. Adopting a plant-based lifestyle has so many benefits; you might consider it by the end of this blog post. Feel free to join The Holistic Hipppie's Facebook Community for healthier, plant-based options.
Types of Plant-Based Lifestyles
Whole Food Plant-Based
A whole food plant-based lifestyle includes natural foods that are not heavily processed. Natural food products are real, unrefined, or minimally refined (i.e., whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes).
A plant-based lifestyle includes foods that come from plants and contain only a minimal amount of animal products, such as meat, eggs, or dairy, if any, at all. Some people will occasionally eat animal ingredients or processed foods but primarily consume plants.
A vegan lifestyle excludes animal products entirely, such as meat, eggs, dairy, and even honey. Veganism also entails an element of morality and compassion toward animals to not exploit them for food, clothing, and other purposes. Typically this diet focuses on processed foods for convenience.
Benefits of a Plant-Based Lifestyle
High in Fiber
One great benefit of adopting a plant-based lifestyle is the fiber content present in all unprocessed plant foods. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body can’t digest. Although most carbohydrates can be broken down into sugar molecules, fiber cannot break down into sugar molecules. Instead, fiber passes through the body undigested, which helps regulate the body’s usage of sugars, assisting in keeping hunger and blood sugar moderated (1). Fiber is present in all unprocessed plant foods. Plants are very fiber-dense; the more fiber you eat, the more benefits you can access.
Supports Your Immune System
The immune system protects us against illness, and an astonishing 70 to 80 percent of your immune system lives in your gut (2). To support the gut microbiome, you need a diet high in fiber. Andrea Murray, MD Anderson health education specialist, says:
"Eating a plant-based diet improves the health of your gut, so you are better able to absorb the nutrients from food that support your immune system and reduce inflammation. Fiber can lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar and it’s great for good bowel management (3)."
To support your gut microbiome, you need a diet high in fiber.
"The foods that are highest in fiber are whole plant foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Instead of focusing on a single micronutrient, it’s important to eat a wide variety of plant-based foods, since they contain different vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals (2)."
To learn more about gut health, a gut health protocol, and gut health product recommendations, check out Earthley's free Gut Health Support Guide, which I co-wrote, here.
May Reduce Inflammation
A two-month randomized study was conducted in 2015. The participants who underwent a plant-based invention experienced a reduction in inflammation compared to those eating diets higher in fat and animal products. Other studies have associated diets high in fat and processed meat with inflammation, indicated by C-reactive protein (CRP), while plant-based diets were correlated with lower levels of CRP. Another study evaluating the effects of a low-fat vegan diet on people with moderate-to-severe Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) found that participants experienced less morning stiffness, RA pain, joint tenderness, and joint swelling (4).
Helps Maintain a Healthy Weight
Another great benefit of adopting a plant-based lifestyle is that it can help maintain a healthy weight. More than two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese is associated with several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. A study conducted in 2017 reviewed several forms of plant-based diets, including vegan and vegetarian diets, based on fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Vegetarian diets typically include dairy products and eggs. This study found that people who consume plant-based diets have lower BMI than those who consume non-plant-based diets. The study also found that adopting a plant-based diet is effective for weight loss (5).
May Reduce Your Risk for Cancer and Other Diseases
Despite cancer being the second-leading cause of death in the United States, research suggests that the best diet to prevent cancer is to consume more fruits and vegetables and less meat and animal products if any at all. Eating more fruits and vegetables may prevent one-third of cancer cases. The Mayo Clinic states:
"In fact, vegans — those who don't eat any animal products including fish, dairy or eggs — appeared to have the lowest rates of cancer of any diet (6).”
In fact, a study was executed on nearly half a million participants. A little more than half of the participants documented that they were regular meat-eaters, indicating they ate processed meat, red meat, or poultry more than five times per week. Another 205,000 of the participants were documented as low meat-eaters, meaning they ate meat five times per week or less. This study also comprised about 11,000 pescatarians and 8,700 vegetarians, along with 446 vegans in the study, who were included in the vegetarian group. After more than a decade of follow-up, their results indicated that regular meat-eaters had a more heightened risk for all cancers than the other dietary groups. Those who followed a low-meat diet, especially men, had a decreased chance for colorectal cancer, vegetarian postmenopausal women had a lower chance for breast cancer, and being vegetarian or pescatarian was associated with reduced risk (7).
May Improve the Appearance of Your Skin
Similar to how diet and gut health are direct influences, diet and skin health are positively correlated. If you consume more plants, you're going to be more hydrated, which in turn hydrates your skin while consuming the appropriate nutrients your body and skin need (8). The typical American diet is loaded with meats, sugars, and dairy, resulting in inflammation and added hormones (9). It is important to remember that your diet increases its nutritional value when you eat more plant-based foods. The fruits and vegetables included in a plant-based lifestyle are one of the many advantages of providing a variety of exposure to foods rich in micronutrients that your skin needs (10).
May Help With Mental Clarity and Thinking Clearly
The brain directly influences the gut and the intestines, associating anxiety with stomach problems and vice versa (11). When something transpires inducing substantial mental or emotional pain, it's called a "gut-wrenching" experience for a reason, meaning what you eat may affect your mental clarity and assist with thinking clearly. For instance, an 18-month study completed in 2013 assessed whether a plant-based nutrition program could reduce body weight and cardiovascular risk. This study revealed that a plant-based diet improves body weight, plasma lipids, and in those with diabetes, glycemic control. This study also supports that a plant-based diet reduces depression, anxiety, and fatigue and boosts overall productivity and well-being (12). To learn more regarding the gut-brain connection and how food impacts your mental health, check out my article Foods To Improve Mental Health, here.
Lighter Environmental Footprint
Additionally, a plant-based lifestyle yields a lighter environmental footprint.
"Food Production is responsible for about 25 percent of the greenhouse-gas emissions heating up the plane. And scientists have known for quite some time now that meat has a bigger climate footprint than fruits and vegetables do (12)."
For example, up to 42,000 pounds of strawberries can be grown on one acre of land (13). Forty-two thousand pounds of strawberries could feed 84,000 people if you followed the recommended 1 cup per serving portion (14). Yet, each cow uses 2 to 5 acres of land (15). One cow only produces 490 pounds of beef (16), feeding approximately 2,613 people if you follow the recommended 3 oz of beef per serving portion (17). In addition, the grain that livestock eat in the U.S. alone could feed 800 million people (18).
Balancing Your Meals & Supplementation
I was taught a balanced diet through the food pyramid as a kid. Before it was changed in 2005, we were instructed to eat the following daily:
6-11 servings from the bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group
3-5 servings from the vegetable group
2-4 servings from the fruit group
2-3 servings from the milk, yogurt, and cheese group
2-3 servings from the meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts group (19)
We were also advised to consume fats, oils, and sweets sparingly.
When this changed in 2005, the new guidelines suggested eating the following daily:
6 ounces of grains
2.5 cups of vegetables
2 cups of fruit
3 cups of milk
5.5 ounces of meat and beans (19)
The new food pyramid is more flexible, adjustable, and accurate, making it easier to maintain a balanced diet without overeating. I like ChooseMyPlate’s alternative. They recommend dividing a plate by 30 percent grains, 30 percent vegetables, 20 percent fruits, and 20 percent protein, accompanied by a smaller circle for dairy (19).
Additionally, the new guidelines make it much easier to adopt a plant-based lifestyle. However, there are still crucial elements one must understand, such as amino acids, proteins, complete proteins, and fats.
Amino acids are the structure of the protein macronutrient. Your body needs 20 amino acids to function correctly. Nine of the 20 essential amino acids must be consumed through the food you eat (20). The nine essential amino acids are:
Protein is a macronutrient essential to much more than just building muscle mass. Protein is needed to structure, function, and regulate the body’s tissues and organs. Proteins comprise hundreds or thousands of smaller units called amino acids, which are attached in long chains. Up to 20 different types of amino acids can be combined to make a protein (22). Protein is commonly found in animal products, but where do you think animals get it from–plants!
A complete protein is a food that contains the nine essential amino acids that our body cannot produce on its own. All plant-based foods have protein, but most are not considered complete proteins (23). The most common plant-based complete protein is soybeans, usually tofu, tempeh, soy milk, etc.
I do not recommend soy. I am allergic to soy, but allergy aside, although soybeans have some health benefits, we must remember that most non-organic soy products are brimming with GMOs. GMOs cause less nutritional value and more toxic effects due to the chemicals involved in the genetic modification process (24). Soybeans contain compounds like phytate, which may interfere with the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals crucial for vegan and plant-based dietary demands (25). These same anti-nutrient compounds may also cause digestive issues due to a reduction in the gut’s barrier functions resulting in inflammation that causes these digestive problems (26).
Learn more regarding The Truth About Soy Products here.
Some plant-based complete proteins include:
Rice and beans
Fats, in moderation, are an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet. Fats are a source of essential fatty acids, meaning the body cannot make them. For instance, omega-3 fatty acids contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fats help the body absorb vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin E. These vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning they can only be absorbed with the help of fats (27). Of course, that means it’s crucial to choose healthy fats rich in omega-3s.
How to Prevent Deficiencies
Deficiencies seem to be the number one concern when people hear “plant-based,” I am here to tell you that doesn’t have to be a concern. If you take the time to educate yourself on balancing your meals, you should only need to supplement one vitamin–B12. The most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies include vitamin D, calcium, zinc, iron, iodine, and B12 (28). This section is dedicated to learning where to find these vitamins and minerals without fortified foods (synthetic vitamins). Most people seem to grab a multivitamin. Personally, I think that approach is unhealthy and overplayed. Learn more regarding The Truth About Multivitamins here. If you think you may have a deficiency, take this quiz here.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient we eat and a hormone our bodies make. This nutrient helps our body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus, both vital for building bone. Studies have demonstrated vitamin D can diminish cancer cell growth, help battle infections and reduce inflammation (29).
Vitamin D is usually found in animal products but is still in plant-based foods. One of the richest plant-based sources of vitamin D besides fortified foods is mushrooms that are grown in sunlight, which contains about 450 IU per 100-gram serving (30). Additionally, sun exposure is the easiest way to get vitamin D (31).
You may not need a daily vitamin D supplement if you incorporate mushrooms into your diet and spend time outside. The best mushrooms for vitamin D are portobello, maitake, morel, button, and shiitake. I am not a huge fan of mushrooms; most mushrooms are grown in the dark too. Still, you can slice your storebought mushrooms, place them on a tray, and leave them outside in the sun for a few hours to soak up vitamin D. Since I don’t eat mushrooms often, I supplement with MaryRuth’s Vegan Vitamin D3+K2 Liquid Spray.
Calcium is essential for the function of many enzymes, blood clotting, muscle contraction, normal heart rhythm as well as the formation of bone and teeth (32). Your heart, muscles, and nerves also need calcium to function properly. Some studies indicate that calcium and vitamin D may protect against cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure (33).
When we hear calcium, we usually think of milk. Aside from containing hormones and pus, consuming dairy traditionally has been linked to risks, such as an increased risk of broken bones, diabetes, ovarian cancer, and antibiotic resistance. Learn more regarding The Truth About Cow’s Milk here.
If your diet doesn’t revolve around processed foods, even without fortified foods, you should be able to go without a calcium supplement. Personally, I do not take one, but if I needed one, I would use MaryRuth’s Organic Cal+Mag.
Zinc is a nutrient in your body and food that assists your immune system and metabolism while improving wound healing and sense of taste and smell (34). Zinc is also responsible for gene expression, enzymatic reactions, immune function, protein synthesis, DNA synthesis, wound healing, growth and development, and more.
Zinc is easiest found in animal products, but that’s not the only source. Some plant-based sources of zin include:
Seeds (hemp, pumpkin, chia, flax)
Mushrooms (shiitake, white button)
Beans (black, lima)
Zinc is so widely available through plant-based foods that you shouldn’t need a supplement. I choose to take a zinc supplement because I have an autoimmune disease and the immune-boosting benefits are fantastic. I use MaryRuth’s Ionic Zinc but only a quarter dose per day.
Iron is an essential mineral that helps transport oxygen throughout the body. Iron is a crucial component of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs throughout your body (35). Iron deficiencies are common in plant-based people and can usually be identified by feeling cold all the time, brittle nails, restless legs/muscle twitches, and hair thinning or loss.
High iron sources are usually associated with meat and eggs, but where do you think they get it from? Plant-based sources of iron include:
Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
Nuts (almonds, cashews, pine nuts, macadamia nuts)
Seeds (pumpkin, sesame, hemp, flaxseeds)
Leafy greens (spinach, kale, swiss chard)
Potatoes with skin
Hearts of palm
I do not need an iron supplement with a variety of options rich in iron but would recommend Earthley's Energy Plus to those who do.
Iodine is a trace mineral naturally found in seawater and certain soils (36). Iodine is an essential mineral for the body. The thyroid gland uses it to generate thyroid hormones responsible for many functions, including inducing body growth and development, including the brain, especially for the fetus during pregnancy (37).
The richest sources of iodine are usually seafood, especially oysters. As someone severely sensitive to seafood, triggering migraines, that’s never been an option for me. Seaweed is another option for iodine, but I’m not a fan of that either. If you’re like me, you’re not doomed. Other plant-based sources of iodine include:
Potatoes with skin
If, even with all that, you’re still struggling with your iodine levels, you’re not alone. I recommend and personally take MaryRuth’s Nascent Iodine.
Vitamin B12 is essential to form red blood cells and DNA. Vitamin B12 binds to the protein in the foods we consume and play a fundamental role in the functionality and development of brain and nerve cells (38).
Unfortunately, naturally occurring vitamin B12 is almost solely found in animal products, except for chlorella, spirulina, seaweed, cremini mushrooms, and fortified foods like nutritional yeast and milk. Unfortunately, the natural, unfortified options are not a reliable source of vitamin B12. With that said, plant-based individuals usually need to supplement this vitamin. I use MaryRuth’s Organic Methyl B12 Liquid Spray. Methylated cobalamin ( methylcobalamin) is naturally occurring instead of synthetic and has shown superior bioavailability (39), so I chose this form of vitamin B12!
⚠️ Warning: The Holistic Hipppie is not a functional medicine practitioner. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This content is not medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or replace medical guidance. The Holistic Hipppie assumes no liability for the application of the information discussed.
Plant-Based Learning Resources
How Not to Die by Michael Greger M.D., FACLM is a book that examines the fifteen top causes of death in America—heart disease, various cancers, diabetes, Parkinson’s, high blood pressure, and more. This book explains how nutritional and lifestyle interventions can sometimes trump prescription pills and other pharmaceutical and surgical approaches, freeing us to live healthier lives. All backed by thousands of sources.
How Not to Die Cookbook is a beautifully-designed, comprehensive cookbook complete with more than 120 recipes for delicious, life-saving, plant-based meals, snacks, and beverages that's a perfect gift for health-conscious eaters.
How Not to Diet Cookbook by Michael Greger M.D., FACLM is a cookbook that goes beyond food to identify 21 weight-loss accelerators available to our bodies, incorporating the latest discoveries in cutting-edge areas like chronobiology to reveal the factors that maximize our natural fat-burning capabilities. Dr. Greger builds the ultimate weight-loss guide from the ground up, taking a timeless, proactive approach that can stand up to any new trend.
Cowspiracy is a groundbreaking feature-length environmental documentary following intrepid filmmaker Kip Andersen as he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today – and investigates why the world’s leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it.
Food Inc. lifts the veil on how the nation’s food industry has been consumed by corporations and how that impacts the farms where our food comes from, the supermarkets where we buy our food, and the restaurants where we eat that food. It tackles the FDA, food safety, food production, large-scale animal processing plants, and other food matters.
Forks Over Knives examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the chronic diseases that afflict us can be controlled or even reversed by rejecting animal-based and processed foods. The idea of food as medicine is put to the test. The film follows everyday Americans with chronic conditions as they seek to reduce their dependence on medications and learn to use a whole-food, plant-based diet to regain control over their health and their lives.
Vegucated is a feature-length documentary that follows three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers who agree to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks. Lured with true tales of weight lost and health regained, they begin to uncover hidden sides of animal agriculture and soon start to wonder whether solutions offered in films like Food, Inc. go far enough. Before long, they find themselves risking everything to expose an industry they supported just weeks before.
What the Health is the groundbreaking follow-up film from the creators of the award-winning documentary Cowspiracy. The film exposes the collusion and corruption in government and big business that is costing us trillions of healthcare dollars, and keeping us sick. What The Health is a surprising, and at times hilarious, investigative documentary that will be an eye-opener for everyone concerned about our nation’s health and how big business influences it.