TLDR: Eat your veggies to boost immunity, keep your gut bacteria happy, reduce inflammation and the chances and/or the effects of chronic disease, and make aging easier and enjoyable!
Disclaimer: While yes, I am the self-proclaimed Crazy Plant Lady, I am NOT a vegan, nor am I here to convince you to adhere to a particular diet or lifestyle. Food shaming does more harm than good and I do not believe it’s a constructive way to help people build healthier lifestyles. So while I may share a ton of vegan recipes and resources, that’s just so you can see that it is possible to eat plant-based AND enjoy it at the same time! Also! It’s not about being perfect 100% of the time. I’m a big believer in the 80/20 rule in two distinct principles: 80% of the time you eat whole foods and 20% of the time you treat yourself; and 80% of your health and fitness goals are reliant on how you eat, while 20% fall on your movement.
OK, now that you know where I stand, shall we?
First, a quick rundown of the state of things in the US as of 2010 (source):
“The average American’s fruit and vegetable consumption is far below recommended levels and has remained relatively flat. The average per capita fruit and vegetable consumption is 1.13 cups of vegetables and 0.68 cups of fruit (Chart 1). Only 6% of individuals achieve their recommended target for vegetables; similarly, only 8% achieve their recommended target for fruit in an average day (Charts 2 & 3). Interestingly, 8 of the states with the lowest fruit and vegetable consumption are also in the top 10 states with the highest obesity rates.”
We’re supposed to be eating 7-13 servings per day, folks. We’ve got a lot of work to do! Here are my top four reasons why plants are awesome:
- PHYTONUTRIENTS ARE THE SUPERHEROES OF THE FOOD WORLD.
Phytos – or Fighters, as I like to describe them to kiddos – are micronutrients that are only found in plants. There are multiple thousands of them – so many that we don’t even know what all of them are yet! The most notable benefit we reap from these bad boys is a boost in immunity – phytos help set your body up to fight infection, meaning when a nasty cold is going around or flu season hits, you are equipped with a strengthened immune system that will help you avoid catching nasty bugs when they make their rounds. It’s not a guarantee, but shoot – I’d rather be prepared than down and out for who knows how long!
- GUT HEALTH.
Did you know that 100 trillion microbial cells live in (and on) your body? Holy smokes, people! The science on gut health is one of the most fascinating topics out there in the wellness world, with new reasons emerging daily to make sure your diet is supporting the good guys living in and supporting your body. If the bacteria in your gut are eating healthy prebiotics, that will change how your body processes food as well as what your body craves.
Prebiotics: The food your gut bacteria eats
Probiotics: The gut bacteria that lives in your body and that you can consume to take up residence in your microbiome.
Plants contain the fiber that health-promoting gut bacteria rely on to thrive, and given that you have more microbial cells in your body than human cells (still blows my mind), keeping these guys happy is a critical step in optimizing your own health!
- HELP GET INFLAMMATION UNDER CONTROL.
Inflammation is the the root cause of so many of our health conditions these days, including chronic disease. Despite all the “anti-inflammatory” language we see in the health world every day, inflammation is a necessary immune function that defends our bodies against invaders; but there is a fine balance we must maintain in order to make sure our body isn’t attacking itself. This is chronic disease in a nutshell. Put in layman’s terms, antioxidants and polyphenols, which are found only in plants, work together with your body’s own cells to communicate who the good guys are vs. the bad guys.
- SLOW THE PITFALLS OF AGING BY REDUCING OXIDATION.
Obviously we can’t actually turn back the clock or stop those gray hairs and wrinkles from forming over time. Oxidation is unavoidable in life, with causes that include environmental pollutants, exercise (you heard me right), and poor diet. I’m sure by now most people have heard the term antioxidant, but do you know what it means and why eating them is important? Antioxidants are chemicals that help stop, limit, or even reverse damage caused by free radicals. Your body uses antioxidants to balance free radicals, which keeps them from causing damage to other cells. For example, when an apple turns brown, that’s oxidation at work. But when you put lemon juice on it (an anti-oxidant), it doesn’t turn brown. The same thing can happen internally for us when we eat right. And given that antioxidants are only found in plants, voila! Antioxidants are at your fingertips every day.
What are some other benefits to eating more plants? Share your reasons in the comments!