There are many benefits of a plant-based diet, particularly for climate health and animals, yet despite the science being very clear on the subject, there is still confusion about the impact on human health.

We’ve known a long time that a diet centred on whole plant foods, such as vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds is good for keeping our hearts healthy, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, and assist weight loss. American ex-basketball player De’Anna Baldwin recently told One Green Planet of the ways her vegan diet helped her.

Here are five additional benefits of a plant-based diet that may surprise you.

1. Improves mental health and wellbeing

Our diet choices can have a huge impact on our mood and mental health. The reasons for this is that our diet affects the health of our gut bacteria, and that produces many of the hormones active in our brains. That gut bacteria will thrive on fibre, which can only be found in whole plant foods, so it is little surprise that a plant-based diet will benefit our mental health.

2. Reduces arthritic pain

Osteoarthritis, the painful breakdown of cartilage in the joints, appears to be an inevitable consequence of ageing. It is not reversible but it is manageable, usually with pain medication and sometimes surgery.

A small study of the impact of a plant-based diet showed reductions in the pain felt by people with osteoarthritis. This could be due to the anti-inflammatory properties in the micro-nutrients in plant foods.

3. Improves period pain in women

In a study to consider the effects of diet on menstrual cycles, women swapped to a low-fat vegan diet for two menstrual cycles, and then back to their usual omnivorous diet for their next two. Pain duration and intensity and pre-menstrual symptoms were recorded and levels of a hormone affecting oestrogen levels were measured.

On the low-fat vegan diet, women reported less pain duration and intensity, shorter duration of premenstrual symptoms and tests showed a lower level of oestrogen.

4. Reduces the risk of urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of the most common causes of infection in the general population with the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) often being the culprit. Infection can occur because E. coli from the intestine finds its way into the urinary tract.

But UTIs can also be caused by E. coli strains commonly found in farm animals such as chickens and pigs, so eating contaminated sources of meat can lead to infection.

5. Saves on hospital costs

If those following a healthy plant-based diet have a lower risk of ill health then surely this will save on health costs.

In a large Taiwanese study, vegetarians were found to have a lower rate of outpatient visits, which translated into a 13% lower outpatient expenditure and a 15% lower total medical expenditure. So it is interesting to hypothesise the health economic impact of a plant-based diet on the UK’s cash-strapped National Health Service.

Plant-based diets then, not only have the potential to dramatically improve human and planetary health but could have significant benefits for the health of the economy too.

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