The food industry has embraced a whole host of new technologies to keep its products fresh and nutritious, but how do you eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet?
For more than a decade, it’s been known that plant-based diets contain more fiber, vitamins and minerals than traditional ones.
But in a recent survey of over 2,000 people, researchers found that those on plant-derived diets tended to have higher blood pressure, lower levels of inflammation and less of the common cardiovascular diseases like heart disease and stroke.
The study, published this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that people on a plant-rich, whole-food diet had a 30 percent lower risk of death from heart disease than people who ate their traditional, meat-based diet.
The results also showed that those who followed a plant–based diet had fewer inflammatory markers, a better immune system and a reduced risk of diabetes.
That, says the study’s lead author, Sara L. Raffel, an associate professor of public health and nutrition at the University of Michigan.
“What we found is that when you have a whole food diet, you are not only getting more nutrients, you’re also reducing inflammation, which is the hallmark of disease,” she says.
In addition to the benefits of plant foods, plant-containing diets also have a number of health benefits.
Plant foods contain high levels of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and proteins, which help protect the body against disease-causing toxins and infections.
They also have the ability to lower blood pressure and blood sugar, both of which are known to be associated with cardiovascular disease.
The same is true for the fiber in plant products.
The fiber in many plant foods comes from plants like beets, lentils, chickpeas, peas, mushrooms and soybeans.
The type of fiber, however, affects how much you need to eat to reach a certain level.
For example, some types of fiber are high in calories, while others are low in calories and high in vitamins and antioxidants.
For most people, those foods are enough to get by on a regular basis, but for people with a high intake of one type of plant fiber, they’re likely to have a problem.
“There’s a range of plant food fiber that’s high in nutrients but also high in carbs,” says Dr. Raskin.
“So, if you’re not eating enough fiber, then you’re going to have problems.”
What’s the best plant-food food to eat?
The best plant food to consume is the plant that has the highest nutritional value, Dr. L.R. says.
This is because plant foods are generally low in protein, calories and fat.
“It’s important to remember that the fiber content of a plant is directly related to the number of calories that the plant provides,” she explains.
“For instance, if a plant contains 60 grams of fiber and has a protein content of 12 grams, that’s a very low fiber content.
But a plant that contains 150 grams of fibers and has 40 grams of protein, that would be an extremely high fiber content.”
This means that a plant food that is high in fiber but low in nutrients like fiber and protein can be a good choice for people who have a high-calorie diet, or people who eat a lot of calories.
However, people who are looking for a low-calories option should also consider their own intake of calories, as some of the higher-caloric plant foods have a lower total number of nutrients than their low-fat counterparts.
Another factor that can influence your plant-friendly diet is whether you want to use whole or cut-up foods.
Some people are allergic to a plant’s fiber, and other people don’t need to worry about having enough of it.
If you are sensitive to certain plant-nutrients, you should be cautious about choosing plant-free foods because it’s more difficult to digest them.
A plant-focused diet can be particularly effective for people at risk for certain chronic conditions, like Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or arthritis.
It can also help people who need a boost in energy, especially those with high blood sugar levels.
Plant-based foods that are high on fiber and other nutrients, like whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, can also be very healthy for those with certain genetic predispositions.
Dr. Saller says that if you are interested in a plant, it is important to take a closer look at the plant and the foods it contains.
“We think about the food we eat as a food, not as an environmental toxin,” she adds.
“If we have the right genes, we can grow plants and grow a whole variety of foods.”
You can also learn more about the science behind plant-centric diets here.
This story was produced by National Geographic’s Science of People program.