Building a better you in 31 days
By Alicia Temple
You’ve decided to ditch animal products for a month! It’s not just our furry friends and the planet who’ll thank you, so will your body. Changing the way you eat might seem a little daunting at ﬁrst but your efforts will be rewarded.
A whole food plant-based way of eating is not about achieving short-term goals like weight-loss—it’s a lifestyle, not a diet—although it is likely you’ll see some welcome changes over a month.
Let’s take a look at seven short-term beneﬁts of replacing animal products with a nutritious whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet; packed with high-fibre fruit, veg, whole grains, legumes, pulses, and nutrient-rich nuts and seeds.
1. More energy
After taking part in No Meat May many people report feeling more energetic and alert. Plant-based diets are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which can help support energy levels. For example, folate and magnesium, found in many plant-based foods, are important for energy production in the body. Antioxidants, which are in abundance in plant foods like berries, leafy greens, and nuts, are essential for protecting the body against oxidative stress, which can contribute to fatigue.
High fibre nutrition also promotes regular bowel movements and supports a healthy digestive system, improving energy levels. Regular bowel movements help to remove waste materials and toxins from your body, allowing your digestive system to function optimally. Your body will more effectively absorb nutrients, in turn helping to maintain energy levels throughout the day.
If you struggle to keep away from that block of chocolate in the cupboard or crave a handful of salty chips, adopting a plant-based diet may help. Processed foods and reﬁned sugars are often the culprits behind intense cravings. US psychologist Doug Lisle PhD refers to this as the ‘pleasure trap’; the dopamine-based brain reward system that predisposes us to seek out calorie-dense food. As soon as we start to transition away from these highly-processed, nutrient-poor foods, we begin to restore the biological processes that naturally keep us running at maximum effciency, kicking those cravings to the curb.
Fibre plays an important role too—it helps regulate your appetite and keeps you feeling full longer. It promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria, improving digestive function and reducing inﬂammation in the body, both of which may help reduce cravings. Fibre is also responsible for assisting in balancing blood sugar, preventing blood sugar spikes and crashes that trigger your desire for unhealthy foods.
At the most basic level, plant-based foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, ﬁbre, and other nutrients that are essential for good health. By consuming more of these nutrient-dense foods, your body will be better nourished and you’ll be less likely to yearn for that last Tim Tam.
3. A healthier gut
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably heard that our gut microbiome plays an important part in our health. When you nourish your body with a WFPB diet you’ll also be nourishing the billions of gut bugs at the same time! Yet again we can thank our friend ﬁbre; it is a well-documented booster of a diverse ecosystem of beneﬁcial gut bacteria. Fibre is not digested or absorbed by the human body, but it is broken down by the bacteria in our gut. These bacteria use the ﬁbre as a source of energy, which allows them to grow and thrive.
A diverse ecosystem of gut bacteria is essential for maintaining a healthy gut and overall health. Beneficial gut bacteria play a vital role in digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune system function. They also help to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and reduce the risk of inﬂammation and disease.
Research has shown our gut microbiome is capable of adapting to new dietary patterns very quickly, even within a matter of days1. People who switched to a healthy plant-based diet showed increases in healthy bacteria within just 5 days. To make sure the good gut bacteria hang around, long-term dietary change needs to be maintained.
4. Improved mood and mental wellbeing
Numerous large-population, multi-wave study studies have demonstrated time and time again that greater fruit and vegetable consumption is positively associated with reduced depression, fewer mood and anxiety problems, and improved perceived mental health2.
Can you expect any changes in the short-term?
The answer is yes. A randomised controlled trial, exploring the effect of fruit and vegetable consumption on the psychological well-being of young adults, resulted in improvements in vitality and motivation in just two weeks3.
These improvements can be attributed to what you are removing, as well as what you are including in your diet. For example arachidonic acid, a type of fat found only in animals, can contribute to inﬂammation in our bodies which has been linked to various mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline. On the flip-side, plant foods, naturally high in antioxidants and phytochemicals, help repair damage and decrease inﬂammation in brain cells.
Our gut-brain connection is also extremely powerful. Millions of nerves and neurons run between your gut and brain. Neurotransmitters and other chemicals produced in your gut affect your brain. For example, the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin (the happy hormone that helps regulate sleep, maintains your mood and controls your sexual desire) is highly inﬂuenced by the billions of “good" bacteria that make up your gut microbiome. Improving the types of bacteria in your gut will encourage these hormones to thrive.
5. Shedding excess weight gain
Another short-term beneﬁt of a healthy plant-based diet is weight-loss, or maintaining a healthy weight, without the need to restrict how much you eat. Whole plant foods are naturally low in energy density, while being high in nutrient density, meaning you can eat until you are full without worrying about serving sizes. No more weighing food, counting calories or skipping meals for shakes! In fact, to ensure you are feeling full and energised throughout the day you may need to focus on eating larger portions and plenty of whole grains, starchy vegetables and legumes.
Any diet that simply restricts calories will help you lose weight in the short-term—although consider if it is a healthy way to reach your ideal weight and is it sustainable in the long term. A nutritious plant-based lifestyle, enjoying an abundance of satiating, minimally processed grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits results ticks off both of these considerations.
6. More radiant skin
A whole food plant-based diet may improve the health and appearance of your skin after just one month.
A higher intake of water and ﬁbre can help hydrate your skin and ﬂush out toxins from the body, improving skin texture and reducing the appearance of acne and other skin conditions.
Plant-based diets are rich in antioxidants, which can help reduce oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress can damage cells and contribute to premature ageing of our skin. Antioxidants may also help protect the skin from the harmful effects of UV radiation and other environmental toxins.
A healthful diet also gives us a boost in nutrients that can help improve skin elasticity, reduce inflammation, and promote wound healing—vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and selenium all play an important role.
Again we must consider what we are leaving out: animal products and processed foods are high in saturated and trans fats, which can contribute to inflammation in our bodies. Inflammation can aggravate common skin conditions such as eczema. Foods high in leucine, such as dairy products and red meat, have been demonstrated to turn on a chain reaction that stimulates the skin's oil glands, making acne breakouts more likely.
7. Better insulin management
A plant-based diet may also help improve your insulin management. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate your blood sugar levels, and when your body becomes resistant to the normal effects of insulin, it can lead to a number of health problems including type 2 diabetes.
We often hear that carbohydrates or sugar cause insulin resistance—in actual fact it is caused by a build-up of fat inside muscle and liver cells. Fat stored in these cells reduces their sensitivity to insulin, resulting in increased blood glucose levels.
Evidence on nutritional interventions demonstrates that a whole food plant-based eating pattern can help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A 2018 study published in the journal Nutrients found that participants who followed a low-fat, plant-based diet for four weeks experienced significant improvements in insulin sensitivity compared to a control group that continued their usual diet 4.
Once again our friend fibre comes to the party, assisting with blood glucose control by keeping us full and slowing down the absorption of glucose.
Now you know what is possible, picture yourself in a month's time feeling happier and healthier by taking steps towards a better you. Keep in mind that a lasting transformation doesn’t happen overnight (or even in 31 days) but the healthy habits you start to establish this month will build and the beneﬁts will go well beyond this short list.
Whole food plant-based nutrition is a sustainable way of eating that will provide long-term personal health beneﬁts….and a better life for animals and the planet!
When making a signiﬁcant diet change it is important to work closely with a healthcare professional, particularly if you are on medications or have an existing health condition.
1 David LA, Maurice CF, Carmody RN, et al. Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature. 2014;505(7484):559-563. doi:10.1038/nature12820
2 Agarwal U, Mishra S, Xu J, Levin S, Gonzales J, Barnard ND. A multicenter randomized controlled trial of a nutrition intervention program in a multiethnic adult population in the corporate setting reduces anxiety and improves quality of life: The GEICO Study. Am J Health Promot. 2015;4:245-254. Bonnie L. Beezhold, Carol S. Johnston, and Deanna R. Daigle, “Vegetarian Diets Are Associated with Healthy Mood States: A Cross-Sectional Study in Seventh Day Adventist Adults,” Nutrition Journal 9, no. 26 (2010), doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-26.
Ciara Rooney, Michelle C. McKinley, and Jayne V. Woodside, “The Potential Role of Fruit and Vegetables in Aspects of Psychological Well-Being: A Review of the Literature and Future Directions,” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 72, no. 4 (2013): 420–32, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24020691.S. Mihrshahi, A. J. Dobson, and G. D. Mishra, “Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Prevalence and Incidence of Depressive Symptoms in Mid-age Women: Results from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health,” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 69, no. 5 (2014): 585–91, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25351653
3 Conner TS, Brookie KL, Carr AC, Mainvil LA, Vissers MC. Let them eat fruit! The effect of fruit and vegetable consumption on psychological well-being in young adults: A randomized controlled trial. PLoS One. 2017;12(2):e0171206. Published 2017 Feb 3.
4 Kahleova, H., Tura, A., Hill, M., Holubkov, R., Barnard, N. D., & Taborsky, M. (2018). A plant-based diet in overweight individuals in a 16-week randomized clinical trial: metabolic beneﬁts of plant protein. Nutrients, 10(9), 1305. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10091305