Four Essential Plant-based Foods

In a recent article in The Conversation, Laureate Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle Clare Collins writes that plant-based foods are source of essential healthy nutrients including dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals, and a range of “phytonutrients”.

A review of research published in May 2021 looked at 12 studies with more than 500,000 people who were followed for up to 25 years. It found those who ate the most plant foods were less likely to die from any cause over follow-up time periods that varied across the studies from five to 25 years, compared to those who ate the least.

Prof. Collins has the following four versatile and tasty plant-based foods that are included in her weekly grocery lists and recommends others to do the same to say healthy.

1. Tomatoes

Tomatoes, which are rich in vitamin C and “lycopene” – a carotenoid which provides them bright color pigment.

A review of six trials found that people, who consumed 1-1.5 large tomatoes or 1-1.5 cups of tomato juice daily for about six weeks, had reduced blood levels of triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood that increases heart disease risk), as well as lower total and “bad” cholesterol levels, compared to those who didn’t have any tomatoes.

Another review of 11 studies tested the effect of tomatoes and lycopene on blood pressure. Researchers found consuming any tomato products led to a large decrease in systolic blood pressure (the first number that measures the pressure at which the heart pumps blood) but there was no effect on the diastolic pressure.

2. Pumpkin

Pumpkin is reported to be rich in beta-carotene, a plant pigment which provides color. It’s reportedly gets converted into vitamin A in the body and is used in the production of antibodies that fight infection. It’s also needed to maintain the integrity of cells in eyes, skin, lungs and the gut.

A review of studies that followed people over time looked at associations between what people ate, blood concentrations of beta-carotene and health outcomes.

People who had the highest intakes of foods rich in beta-carotene (such as pumpkin, carrots, sweet potato and leafy greens) had an 8-19% lower relative risk of having coronary heart disease, stroke, or dying from any cause in studies over 10 years or more compared to those with the lowest intakes.

3. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are rich in nutrients with strong antioxidant properties.

The body’s usual processes create oxidative stress, which generates “free radicals”. These are small particles that damage cells walls and cause the cells to die. If these aren’t neutralised by antioxidants, they can trigger inflammation, contribute to ageing and development of some cancers.

A review of 17 studies on mushrooms and health found people who ate the most mushrooms had a 34% lower risk of developing any type of cancer compared to those with lowest intakes. For breast cancer, the risk was 35% lower. Though, again, correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation.

4. Oats

Oats are a good sources of beta-glucan, a soluble fibre shown to help lower blood cholesterol levels.

A review of ten studies tested the effects on blood sugar and insulin levels from eating intact oat kernels, thick rolled oats or quick rolled oats compared to refined grains. These found eating intact oat kernels and thick rolled oats led to significant reductions in blood glucose and insulin responses, but not after eating quick rolled oats.

This is likely due to the longer time it takes for your body to digest and absorb the less-processed oats. So it’s better to eat whole grain oats, called groats, or rolled oats rather then quick rolled oats.

The impact of oats on blood pressure has been tested in five intervention trials which showed a small, but important, drop in blood pressure.