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Top 5 Reasons to Eat a Plant-Based Diet

09/04/2013 03:29 pm ET | Updated Nov 04, 2013

Eating more plants and less meat is becoming more popular than ever thanks to ex-presidents, celebrities, best-selling books, and movies such as Forks Over Knives. While vegetarian and vegan diets are defined by what they exclude, a plant-based diet is defined by what it includes -- lots of plant foods! This means eating more veggies, fruits, beans, peas, lentils, whole grains, nuts, and seeds instead of animal products and processed foods.

Need some motivation to try a plant-based diet? Here are five good reasons to consider.

1. It's good for your health.

Dr. Dean Ornish's research showed that eating a very low-fat, plant-based, vegetarian diet and other lifestyle changes could, in fact, reverse heart disease. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn also succeeded in arresting and reversing heart disease in patients who were seriously ill.

The Adventist Health Study-2 found that vegetarians had a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. While about 50 percent of Americans will develop high blood pressure by the age of 60, research shows that populations that consume a diet comprised mostly of vegetables or who are vegetarian have "virtually no increase in hypertension with age."

Eating red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) is associated with increased rates of cancer and heart disease. And the American Cancer Society recommends eating a healthy diet for the prevention of cancer "with an emphasis on plant foods."

And compelling new research has found that eating meat causes the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract to produce a compound that may increase the risk of atherosclerosis (clogged arteries).

2. It's easy to lose weight.

Let face it. If you are eating a lot of plant foods, many of which have only 10 to 50 calories per cup, you are going to lose weight. If you eat these foods instead of fast, fatty, processed, and sweet foods, you will cut out a ton of calories -- and the best part is, you will feel full!

The classic American meal is a burger, fries, and a coke. At McDonald's, you can buy the following for 1,140 calories:

  • Quarter Pounder with cheese
  • Medium order of fries
  • Medium coke

Or you can have the following plant foods for 1,140 calories. Salad:

  • 3 cups spring mix salad greens
  • 3 tablespoons hummus
  • ½ cup kidney beans
  • 1 cup carrots
  • 1 cup tomatoes
  • 1 cup artichoke hearts
  • 1 cup sugar snap peas
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar mixed with 2 tablespoons of hummus as a salad dressing

And for dessert:

  • 2 apples
  • 2 bananas
  • 2 cups of blueberries

Additionally, some research shows that meat is independently associated with obesity.

3. It's good for the environment.

It takes about 15 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef and about 5 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of chicken. We grow a lot of grain to feed animals, but we would use less water and other energy resources if we ate the grain ourselves.

An article in Scientific American reveals that the amount of beef the average American eats in a year creates as much greenhouse gas as driving a car over 1,800 miles!

A report released by the Environmental Working Group actually calculated how much greenhouse gas is produced by the food we eat. Animal products are the highest producers. So forget the lamb and eat the lentils!

4. It saves you money.

Many people think eating fast food, such as McDonald's, is the cheapest way to eat. But actually eating plant-based foods can cost even less.

A McDonald's meal for four people -- including two Big Macs, a six-piece Chicken McNuggets meal, a small hamburger, four medium fries, and four medium drinks -- costs around $24.

But you could have lentil soup, salad, fruit, and sparkling mineral water for four people for about $10!

Granted, you would spend more time cooking the lentil soup. However, you could make a large pot, put it in the frig or freezer, and have it for lunch or dinner over the next few days, ultimately saving both time and money.

Beans, peas, and lentils are some of the cheapest foods you can buy. And a recent report even shows that fruits and veggies are more economical than we once thought.

5. You're not supporting animal cruelty.

None of us wants to see the horrific treatment that animals are subjected to for our benefit. I know I certainly don't. But I think it is important for all of us to understand how animals are treated so that we can make a conscious choice.

I will mention just one example as a case in point: gestation crates for pigs. Once the sows are artificially inseminated, they are put in crates with just enough room for their bodies for their entire pregnancy. As the sows get larger and larger, they often develop pressure sores. They urinate and defecate through slots in the bottom of the crate. The smell of ammonia is strong enough to cause lung problems. Once the sow delivers, it is back in the gestation crate. When the animals are spent, they are taken to slaughter. They use these horrific practices to save money and produce more meat. But at what cost? Pigs are intelligent animals, and I just cannot be a part of this kind of suffering to save a few dollars.

I am not a vegan. I do occasionally eat animal products, mostly fish and eggs, but when I do eat them I go out of my way buy to products from animals that have been humanely raised. One example is Vital Farms eggs. Yes, I pay more for them. However, for the very small amount of animal products I do eat, it is worth it and does not break the bank.

It's hard to argue with a plant-based diet when it benefits our health, waistline, environment, wallet, and conscience. Any movement toward more plants and less meat is a big step in the right direction. Why not skip the meat and eat some beans today?

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