What are the health benefits to eating a plant- based diet?

Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)

The term “plant-based diet” appears to be in vogue at the moment. But, exactly, what does it actually mean?

Dietary patterns that place a larger focus on meals originating from plants are known as plant-based diets (such as fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, pulses and oils). Although many people associate plant-based diets with vegetarian or vegan lifestyles, they do not have to be exclusively plant-based. Such diets do not have to fully remove animal products like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products, but they will include a greater proportion of food from plant sources for example: The Mediterranean Diet or the Nordic Diet.

What is often included in a plant-based diet?

A high intake of plant-based foods is characteristic of a plant-based diet. Healthy, balanced plant-based diets can have a variety of ingredients, but often  include the following:

•plenty of wholegrains, vegetables and fruit• seafood, some dairy products (or dairy alternatives), nuts, seeds, and legumes •lower salt and saturated fat than is typically consumed in a western type diet but includes some healthy unsaturated fat such as monounsaturated fat • lower intakes of fatty/processed meats, refined cereals, sugar-sweetened food and drinks

What are the health benefits to eating a plant- based diet?

When compared to less healthy dietary patterns, studies have found that plant-based dietary patterns with an emphasis on plant foods, such as vegetarian, vegan, or Mediterranean-style diets, are connected to a lower risk of heart disease, strokes, and type 2 diabetes. Scientific evidence also suggests that eating a nutritious plant-based diet helps reduce the risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, and supporting a healthy bodyweight.

Many foods that are key in our diets, such as fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, and legumes, are greater in plant-based diets. As a result, these diets tend to be higher in dietary fibre and lower in saturated fat and free sugars than other diets.

5 fab plant -based foods to help support fertility

Tomatoes- Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C – a powerful antioxidant that has many important functions in the body, from immune support, to skin health, in the prevention of blood clots and offering protection from prostate cancer. Tomatoes also contain Lycopene. Lycopene is a naturally occurring carotenoid. Tomatoes, especially cooked tomatoes, may improve fertility, especially in men. Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants, and provide red, yellow and orange colour to fruit and vegetables. They have an important role in that they protect the cells of the body from damage caused by free radicals. In relation to fertility, there have been some studies into the beneficial effects of lycopene on male fertility. Research has been carried out to examine the effect of the antioxidants in lycopene in helping to protect developing sperm from free radical damage and possible DNA damage.

Walnuts – Walnuts  are the only nut to contain omega 3 (apart from butternut)– linked in studies to improving sperm, motility, shape and quality. A great source of vitamin E – important for endometrial health. Also rich in magnesium the ‘happy mineral’ linked to improving sleep and reducing stress and anxiety. Magnesium also helps in producing progesterone and increasing blood supply to the uterus, which are both important for fertility.

Avocados- Avocados are amazing and are packed with more than 18 nutrients, are a good source of healthy monounsaturated fats and contain a small amount of carbohydrate so great for helping balance sugar levels.

Lentils- are good news for pre conceptually as they are a great source of protein, iron and fibre. Iron is needed to make haemoglobin the re pigment in blood which carries oxygen around the body and the fibre helps remove toxins including excess oestrogen.

Seaweed- is low in calories and a great source of iodine which is needed for the healthy functioning of the thyroid gland. This mineral is vital for a healthy conception because it is a building block for hormones and plays an important role in balancing hormones. Seaweed also contains zinc- another important mineral for health and fertility.

10 top tips of how to incorporate more plant- based food into your diet

• Make your own granola or granola bars for breakfast- add in lots of your favourite fruit, nuts and seeds

• Add lentils or chickpeas to a curry

• Snack on seeds and nuts

• Sprinkle some seeds and nuts on your porridge

• Enjoy your morning smoothie with a few seeds and nuts- chia and almond go well

• Add some roasted pine nuts to your favourite salad

• Why not add some beans to your soup – they make a great addition

• Enjoy crudites such as chopped apple, carrot, cucumber, celery with a nut butter dip as a healthy snack

• Add some veggies to your morning smoothie or juice- a handful of baby spinach or kale is a good start

• Add a few beans to your salad or stir fry- small broad beans or edamame are delicious and nutritious

Interesting Reading:

Dimitrios Karayiannis, Meropi D Kontogianni, Christina Mendorou, Minas Mastrominas, Nikos Yiannakouris, Adherence to the Mediterranean diet and IVF success rate among non-obese women attempting fertility, Human Reproduction, Volume 33, Issue 3, March 2018, Pages 494–502.

Amini N, Shiravi A, Mirazi N, Hojati V, Abbasalipourkabir R (2021) Protective effects of the fruit extract of raspberry (Rubus fruticosus L.) on pituitary-gonadal axis and testicular histopathology in streptozotocin induced diabetic male rats. Avicenna J Phytomed. ;11(2):199-209.

Gaskins AJ, Chiu Y-H, Williams PL, et al. Association between serum folate and vitamin B-12 and outcomes of assisted reproductive technologies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015;102(4):943-950. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.112185.

Serapinas, Boreikaite, Bartkeviciute, Bandzeviciene R3, Silkunas M2, BartkevicieneThe importance of folate, vitamins B6 and B12 for the lowering of homocysteine concentrations for patients with recurrent pregnancy loss and MTHFR mutations. Reprod Toxicol. 2017 Sep;72:159-163. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2017.07.001. Epub 2017 Jul 6

Thomas E. Schmid et al (2012) Micro-nutrients intake is associated with improved sperm DNA quality in older men, Fertility and Sterility, Volume 98, Issue 5,Pages 1130-1137.e1,ISSN 0015-0282,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2012.07.1126.

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