THE BASICS: Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet – Part 3

Last but certainly not least, the final installment of why you might want to consider changing to a plant-based way of life.


Encourage a healthy microbiome

Our microbiome is now being thought of as ”the forgotten organ” due to its major role in the health of our bodies.  In essence, our microbiome is made up of thousands of different species of one-celled organisms living in a delicate balance with each other and with us, their hosts.  These tiny creatures coat our skin and protect us from attacks from the outside; inside our gut they break down food, improving digestion, metabolism and absorption; manufacture short-chain fatty acids that are essential for good health; produce vitamins; inhibit pathogens; and can even alter the expression of human genes and influence the central nervous system.   A healthy gut microbiome holds about 100 trillion microbes made up of up to 1000 different species, an immense number that is more than the sum total of all the cells that make up the rest of our bodies.

Unfortunately, a healthy microbiome consists of both health-giving and health-taking microbes.  Our goal must be to nurture the beneficial microbes in our guts and to discourage those that support ill-health.  We are now seeing an explosion in the global incidence of chronic diseases, a consequence in part of both the decreasing species diversity in our microbiomes and the balance between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”.  Many “diseases of affluence” are associated with the fitness of our microbiomes – obesity; type 2 diabetes; cardiovascular disease; autoimmune diseases such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and type I diabetes; colon cancer; and environmental diseases such as asthma, allergies, hay fever, eczema and psoriasis.  The study of the gut microbiome is still in its infancy and there is no doubt that continuing research will reveal more repercussions of unhealthy lifestyles.

Dietary fiber is the magic ingredient that feeds our resident gut populations of beneficial gut bacteria.  Where does fiber lurk?  Animal based foods contain no fiber; it all comes down to eating plants.

(See Sources #83 to 91)


Lower environmental impact

There is a huge sustainability gap between the eating of meat and the eating of plants.  As the global population looms ever greater, our present diets will become increasingly unsustainable.  It takes 25 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of animal protein in North American.  In contrast, it takes only 2.2 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of plant protein.  Additionally, animal protein requires 100 times more water in its production than an equivalent amount of plant protein.

Livestock production accounts for 18% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, more than that produced by all the automobiles in the world combined.   Even the idea of eating locally is flawed.  From a greenhouse gas standpoint, local animal-based food production has a much larger ecological footprint than eating organically-produced vegetables from thousands of miles away.

Countries around the world are working on reducing their dependency on fossil fuels.  However, any changes that are made will take decades and maybe even centuries to have a noticeable effect on the environment.  The simple dietary change of eating only plant-based foods and no animal-based foods has an immediate effect on greenhouse gases, water use and land deforestation.  The most powerful thing that one person can do for his or her environment is to adopt a meat-free diet.

(See Sources #92 to 101)


Decrease exposure to hormones and toxins 

Eating meat and other animal products is associated with shortened lifespan.  Animal-based foods increase exposure to hormones produced naturally by the animal (estrogen in dairy animals and IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) in both meat and dairy); hormones added during meat, egg or milk production; antibiotics used to increase the production of meat, milk and eggs; environmental toxins that are concentrated in the bodies of birds and animals (industrial toxins, mercury and other heavy metals); and toxic chemicals such as HCA (heterocyclic amines) and PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) that are by-products of cooking meat.

Processed meat is now labelled by the World Health Organization as a carcinogen “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

(See Sources #102 to 110)


…..and a whole host of other benefits that will become clear in the course of this blog;

A healthier way to get your protein, minerals and iron

A delicious tactic for obtaining copious amounts of healthy nutrients in the diet such as fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals (including bioflavonoids, carotenoids, isoflavones, anthocyanins lignans)

A way to improve bone health and sexual function

A means to see much greater improvements in chronic diseases than those realized by taking medications

An action that can lead to lowering the incidence of many of the diseases that are becoming so much more common today including rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, non-alcoholic liver disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease), asthma, allergies, psoriasis and polycystic ovarian syndrome




Gut Microbiome

  1. Albenberg, L.G., Wu, G.D. Diet and the intestinal microbiome: associations, functions, and implications for health and disease.  Gastroenterology.  2014 May; 146(6):1564-1572.


  1. Glick-Bauer, M. Yeh,M.C. The health advantage of a vegan diet: exploring the gut microbiota connection. Nutrients. 2014 Oct 31;6(11):4822-4838.


  1. Maukonen, J., Saarela,M. Human gut microbiota: does health matter? Proc Nutr Soc. 2015 Feb; 74(1):23-36.


  1. Goldsmith, J.R., Sartor, R.B. The role of diet on intestinal microbiota metabolism: downstream impacts on host immune function and health, and therapeutic implications. J Gastroenterol. 2014 May; 49(5):785-798.


  1. Saulnier, D.M., Kolida, S., Gibson, G.R. Microbiology of the human intestinal tractand approaches for its dietary modulation. Curr PharmDes. 2009; 15(13):1403-1414.


  1. Walter, J., Martínez, I., Rose, D.J. Holobiont nutrition: considering the role of the gastrointestinal microbiota in the health benefits of whole grains. Gut Microbes.  2013 Jul-Aug; 4(4):304-346.


  1. Sonnenburg, E.D., Sonnenburg, J.L. Starving our microbial self: the deleterious consequences of a diet deficient in Microbiota-accessible carbohydrates.  Cell Metab. 2014 Nov4; 20(5):779-786.

90  Lima-Ojeda, J.M., Rupprecht, R., Baghai, T.C. I Am I and My Bacterial Circumstances: Linking Gut Microbiome, Neurodevelopment, and Depression.  Front. Psychiatry. 22 August 2017;

91  Oliphant, K., Allen-Vercoe, E.  Macronutrient metabolism by the human gut microbiome: major fermentation byproducts and their impact on host health.  Microbiome Journal. 2019; 7:91.(



  1. Springmanna, M., Charles, H., et al. Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change.  PNAS.  2015; 113(15):4146–4151.


  1. Baroni, L., Cenci, L.,Tettamanti, M., Berati, M. Evaluating the environmental impact of various dietary patterns combined with different food production systems. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007 Feb;61(2):279-86. Epub 2006 Oct 11.


  1. Pimentel,D., Pimentel,M. Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Sep;78(3 Suppl):660S-663S.


  1. Stehfest, E., Bouwman, L., Vuuren, D.P.V. et al. Climate benefits of changing diet. Climatic Change (2009) 95:83–102.


  1. Aleksandrowicz, L., Green, R., Edward, J.M., Smith, P, Haines, A. The Impacts of Dietary Change on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Land Use, Water Use, and Health: A Systematic Review. PLoS One.  2016 Nov 3; 11(11): e0165797.


  1. Meier, T., Christen, O. Environmental impacts of dietary recommendations and dietary styles: Germany as an example. Environ Sci Technol. 2013 Jan 15;47(2):877-88.


  1. Powles, J. Commentary: Why diets need to change to avert harm from global warming. Int J Epidemiol. 2009 Aug;38(4):1141-1142.


  1. Scarborough, P., Appleby, P.N. et al. Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. Clim Change. 2014; 125(2): 179–192.


  1. Tukker, A., Bausch-Goldbohm, S., et al. Environmental Impacts of Diet Changes in the EU.


  1. Cooking up a storm. Food Climate Research Network. Sept 2008.



Hormones, Toxins

  1. Rohrmann, S., Lukas Jung, S.U., Linseisen, J., Pfau,W. Dietary intake of meat and meat-derived heterocyclic aromatic amines and their correlation with DNA adducts in female breast tissue. Mutagenesis. 2009 Mar; 24(2):127-132.


  1. Parada, H. Jr., Steck S., et al. Grilled, Barbecued, and Smoked Meat Intake and Survival Following Breast Cancer. Cross, A., Peters, U., et al.  A prospective study of meat and meat mutagens and prostate cancer risk.  Cancer Res. 2005 Dec 15; 65(24):11779-11784.


  1. Butler, L.M., Sinha,R., Millikan, R.C. et al. Heterocyclic amines, meat intake, and association with colon cancer in a Population-based study. Am J Epidemiol.  2003; 157(5):434-445.


  1. Malekinejadi, I. Rezabakh, H. Hormones in Dairy Foods and Their Impact on Public Health – A Narrative Review Article. Iran J Public Health.  2015. June; 44(6):742-758.


  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FSIS National Residue Program for Cattle. Audit Report 24601-08-KC, March 2010.


  1. National Research Council. Meat and Poultry Inspection: The Scientific Basis of the Nation’s Program. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1985.


  1. Karouna-Renier, N.K., Ranga Rao, K., Lanza, J.J. et al. Mercury levels and fish consumption practices in women of child-bearing age in the Florida Panhandle. Environ Res. 2008 Nov; 108(3):320-6. Epub 2008 Sep 23.


  1. Trasande, L., Landrigan, P.J., Schechter, C. Public health and economic consequences of methyl mercury toxicity to the developing brain. Environ Health Perspect. 2005 May; 113(5):590-6.


  1. Foran, J.A., Carpenter, D.O., Hamilton, M.C., et al.Risk-based consumption advice for farmed Atlantic and wild Pacific salmon contaminated with dioxins and dioxin-like compounds. Environ Health Perspect. 2005 May; 113(5):522-556




Promoting a healthy adventurous lifestyle powered by plants and the strength of scientific evidence.

My name is Debra Harley (BScPhm) and I welcome you to my retirement project, this website. Over the course of a life many lessons are learned, altering deeply-rooted ideas and creating new passions.

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