Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

by Abigail McCleery, Wellness Coordinator, St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor

Abby McCleeryChances are you have heard the term “plant-based diet,” but you may wonder what it means and if there are any real benefits. Contrary to many diets today that focus on what to avoid, a plant-based diet focuses on including more vegetables, fruit, beans, peas, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds. From our personal health to the health of the environment, there are lots of scientifically backed reasons to include more plants in our diet, including our top 5 reasons listed below:

  1. It’s good for your health. Research has shown that many of today’s chronic lifestyle diseases including diabetes, hypertension (HTN) and heart disease can be prevented, treated, and, in some cases, even reversed by following a plant-based diet. If you would like to learn more, please visit the non-commercial, science-based public service website
  2. It’s good for the environment. It takes about 15 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef and about five pounds of grain to produce one pound of chicken. We grow a lot of grain to feed animals, but we would use far less water and other energy resources if we ate the grain ourselves. Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions  — more than the exhaust from all transportation combined. If every American dropped just one serving of chicken from their diet per week, it would save the same amount of CO2 emissions as removing 500,000 cars from the road. In fact, by some estimates, a plant-based diet can cut your carbon footprint by a full 50%.
  3. It could help you lose weight. Including more plant foods, many of which have only 10-50 calories per cup, instead of processed, high fat, high calorie foods, can help you cut calories. To compare, roughly 1,100 calories at McDonald’s gets you a Quarter Pounder with cheese, medium fries and a medium Coke, which comes with a whopping 43 grams of fat and 1380mg sodium. A plant-based meal of around the same calories could include a colorful, nutrient-packed, satisfying 3 cups of salad greens, 3 tablespoons of hummus, ½ cup kidney beans, 1 cup of carrots, 1 cup of tomatoes, 1 cup of artichoke hearts, 1 cup of sugar snap peas, 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar mixed with 2 tablespoons of hummus as a dressing, plus 2 apples, 2 bananas and 2 cups of blueberries!
  4. It can save you money. Granted, cooking at home will cost you some time, it can be very economical. In fact, beans, peas and lentils are some of the least expensive foods you can buy, and they pack a huge nutritional punch. Buying in bulk can help cut costs and reduce packaging that can contribute to air and water pollution and increased carbon emissions.
  5. It doesn’t harm animals. More than 9 billion animals are raised and slaughtered in the U.S. every year, mostly in large factory farm environments that are known for their overcrowded, unsanitary and appalling conditions. By including more plants in our diet, we are helping save these animals from unnecessary suffering.

For more information on plant-based nutrition, check out this helpful FAQ from Kaiser Permanente.

Thinking of giving plant-based meals a try but need some inspiration? In conjunction with Vegetarian Awareness Month, the Market Café at St. Joe’s Ann Arbor will feature some delicious plant-based specials in October to get you started. And keep an eye out for our new labeling system in the Café which will make it easier for customers to identify plant-based items at a glance.

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