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Benefits and Shortcomings of Plant-Based Diets: An Overview

There are several different plant-based diets, and they are not necessarily all-vegan or completely vegetarian either.

Some of them focus on limiting our intake of non-vegetarian nutrients to some extent, while others tend to replace all forms of animal-derived nutrients and replace them with vegetarian options.

Below is an overview of the concept of plant-based diets, their benefits, and their shortcomings.

It’s Not Always about Going Vegan

Becoming a vegan should be a choice based on one’s moral standpoint, because there is no evidence to support the theory that a completely vegan diet can keep us healthier on a daily basis than a properly balanced diet, without supplementation.

Therefore, do not immediately assume that a plant-based diet is about going vegan. It’s more about moderation and maintaining the balance between your nutritional sources, with a definite focus on plant-based sources for fulfilling primary nutritional needs.

A plant-based diet from a medical and nutritional standpoint is designed to help us cut our intake of unhealthy foods and maximize the consumption of healthy options.

It just happens to be a fact that red meat, in particular, contributes to a whole long list of health problems, while you will hardly find any edible fruits and vegetables out there that can cause the same level of damage as animal meat has the potential to bring about. 

Therefore, the focus of a plant-based diet should ideally be on making us healthier by increasing our plant based nutrient intake to supplement a decreased intake of animal-based nutrients.

Meat, eggs, and fish may very well still be an essential part of a plant-based diet, albeit in a reduced quantity.

Benefits: There are Several

There are several, proven benefits of a balanced plant-based diet that don’t insist on going completely vegan.

The idea is to provide the body with all the nutrients it needs on a daily basis, but mostly from a plant-based source.

Since plant-based foods have a low association with LDL cholesterol and Intracapillary inflammations, such diets can help us reduce our chances of developing:

  • Heart disease, arterial inflammations, arterial plaque and blockage
  • Hypertension, aka high blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Digestive disorders
  • Several types of cancer
  • Diabetes

Primarily vegetarian diets are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants.

Each of these has several profoundly positive effects on human health, such as:

  • Antioxidants relieve oxidative stress which, in turn, reduces inflammatory tendencies inside and outside the body
  • Phytonutrients have antioxidative, neuroprotective, immunity-boosting, antiaging, and anticarcinogenic properties
  • Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients necessary for us to remain alive and functional on a cellular level
  • High dietary fiber is related to low LDL, reduced hypertension, improved digestion, and reduced gut inflammation

Cancer and Plant-Based Diets: Is there Really a Preventive Relationship?

As it turns out, there are indeed several direct and indirect preventive relationships between plant-based diets and reduced chances of developing certain types of cancer.

The relationships have been established through extensive studies, and most of them do show that vegans and vegetarians exhibit the lowest rate of cancer in the United States. As stated by the Mayo Clinic, a study of 70,000+ subjects revealed that:

  • Those that depend exclusively on plant-based sources to get their nutrients have the lowest rate of cancer reports
  • Vegetarians who avoid meat completely but depend on dairy products also had a very low rate of cancer reports
  • People who largely rely on plant-based nutrition, but also eat eggs and fish (not meat) were among the groups with the lowest cancer rates
  • People who depend heavily on red meat had the highest rate of cancer within their groups

This leads us to the most natural question: was the lowered rate of cancer a result of eating a plant-based diet or not eating a meat-based diet?

In truth, the two cannot be separated for very practical reasons. If a person was to avoid red meat and fulfill their nutritional needs, then they must derive those necessary nutrients from other sources.

Since vegetarians and vegans enjoy some of the lowest rates of cancer among them, it would be accurate to state that fruits, vegetables, seeds, grains, eggs, and fish are the best options for nutrition if you wish to lower your chances of developing certain types of cancer.

The fact that several of the plant-based sources of food also have anticarcinogenic properties is a major advantage of course.

Shortcomings: Vegan or Vegetarian Diets are Unsuitable for SIBO Patients

Unfortunately, if you check for what foods should be avoided with SIBO, you will find that most of the nutritional foods such as apples, bananas, apricots, dried fruits, melons, berries, lentils, nuts, yogurt, cheese, milk, etc., are on that list.

Grains such as rye and wheat are also to be avoided with SIBO, meaning that a plant-based diet is completely unsuitable for someone suffering from the symptoms of small intestine bacterial overpopulation (SIBO).

On the other hand, the good news is that with an integrative health approach, you should be able to find a perfectly balanced and customized diet chart, even if you have SIBO. 

Check this article to know both what foods should be avoided with SIBO, as well as which ones they should be replaced with.

For example, did you know that highly rich sources of plant-based nutrients such as green beans, spinach, zucchini, cucumber, lettuce, and carrots are on the safe list for SIBO patients?

You may need to depend on a more diverse source of nutrition if you have SIBO but, with their help, you will also be able to avoid all the high-risk, potentially carcinogenic food options too.

How Should You Decide?

Before you decide on any diet, it is important to follow the steps, as mentioned below:

  • Get checked for all common medical diseases and disorders by going through a medical checkup
  • Consult with your doctor to know your limits
  • Consult with an integrative nutritionist to develop the best possible diet and exercise chart for your health condition

If you have definite fitness goals and a specific diet in find, tell your nutritionist about it, so that they can prepare a diet more suited to those goals without risking your health.

As we have already seen, while a plant-based diet can be considered perfectly healthy for most people, it would be detrimental to someone with SIBO.

In conclusion, we must restate what was mentioned in the introduction; don’t assume that a plant-based or meat-based diet is the right option, without considering your unique physical conditions first.

The goal of any diet should be to help the individual stay healthy first and fit second. Even if you were to shift to a completely plant-based diet, there is no one-size-fits-all dietary discipline available.

Although certain basics never change, each diet must be adjusted in accordance with an individual’s age, weight, fitness level, fat percentage, musculature, medical conditions (if any), food allergies, lifestyle choices, ongoing medications, and several other additional factors that are never the same.

Consult with professionals to get the best results within the shortest amount of time if you have fitness goals, but feel bogged down by health conditions at the same time.

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