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Researchers have found that a plant-based diet may help prevent, treat, or reverse some of our leading causes of death, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension. Studies of plant-based diets have shown, for example, 90 percent reductions in angina attacks within just a few weeks, and plant-based diet intervention groups have reported improved digestion, increased energy, and better sleep, and significant improvement in their physical functioning, general health, vitality, and mental health. Studies have also shown plant-based eating can improve not only body weight, blood sugar levels, and ability to control cholesterol, but also emotional states, including depression, anxiety, fatigue, sense of well-being, and daily functioning.

How can one diet do all that? Because plant-based foods contain more than 100,000 different disease-preventing nutrients—more specifically, more than 100,000 phyto-nutrients, phyto for the Greek word for plant. Blueberries have anthocyanins that may help with memory. Tomatoes are rich in the red pigment lycopene, which may help target heart disease and cancer, and ginger has gingerols that may help with hypertension. Intake of citrus has been associated with reduced stroke risk perhaps thanks to its phytonutrient hesperidin, which appears to increase blood flow throughout the body, including the brain. The list goes on. And we can’t just take these phytonutrients in a pill. When it comes to food, the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts. Beta carotene pills, for example, may actually increase cancer risk, as opposed to the whole carrot, which may lower our risk. (Who could swallow 100,000 pills a day anyway?)

Hundreds of phytonutrients have been found to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. Six months of consuming the phytonutrients curcumin, the bright-yellow pigment in turmeric, and quercetin, which is found naturally in such fruits and vegetables as red onions and grapes, appeared to decrease the number and size of polyps by more than half in patients with a hereditary form of colorectal cancer. And many phytonutrients may help block the formation of new blood vessels that feed tumors, and others appear to defend against toxic invaders. Researchers found that phytonutrients in such plant foods as fruits, vegetables, tea leaves, and beans can block the effects of dioxins in vitro, for example. Having phytonutrient levels in the bloodstream achieved by eating three apples a day or a tablespoon of red onion appeared to cut dioxin toxicity in half. As these phytonutrient effects lasted only a few hours, we should make sure to eat healthy foods at every meal.

Image Credit: Joshua Resnick © 123RF.com. This image has been modified.

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