October is National Vegetarian Awareness Month, a time set aside to recognize the vegetarian lifestyle, to raise awareness of the health benefits of plant-based eating, and to celebrate the diversity of vegetarian cooking. Join us in celebrating National Vegetarian Awareness Month with three ways that plant-forward and vegetarian diets can support women’s health. Before we dive in, let’s cover an important question.
What is a Vegetarian?
A vegetarian is an individual who eats a plant-based diet without meat, fish, or poultry due to spiritual, ethical, health, or other personal reasons. “Vegetarian” is an umbrella term that can include the following individuals:
Lacto-ovo vegetarians that eat a plant-based diet including dairy and eggs.
Lacto-vegetarians that eat a plant-based diet including dairy products only.
Ovo-vegetarians that eat a plant-based diet including eggs only.
Vegans are set apart from vegetarians because they do not consume any animal-based products including butter, honey, and gelatin. Some vegans also avoid the use of non-food animal products like leather or wool.
Plant-Based Eating and Women’s Health
The fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and other compounds in plant foods have been shown to have a powerful effect on insulin sensitivity, hormone balance, cardiovascular health, weight, energy balance, and overall wellness. Vegetarian diets may also support the improvement of many chronic diseases that disproportionately affect black women in America. Here are three ways that plant-based eating can support the unique needs of women.
Supports Insulin Sensitivity and Blood Sugar Control
Research suggests that vegetarians have higher insulin sensitivity than individuals that eat meat, independent of BMI. The effect was shown to be even higher in vegans. This is likely due to the high amount of protein, fiber, and healthy fat available in plant foods like beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Fiber, protein, and fat work both combined and on their own to slow the release of sugar into blood after eating. This can result in blood sugar balance and improved cell reaction to insulin, a hormone that commands the cells to absorb sugar from the blood. On the contrary, insulin resistance has been associated with irregular cycles and other women’s health issues.
Supports Proper Inflammatory Response
Healthy inflammation is important for women’s health and immunity. When an infection or injury occurs, inflammatory cells are quickly ordered to attack the body’s offenders - bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxins – or to heal damaged cells. Inflammation also plays key roles in women’s reproductive health and are required for proper ovulation, menstruation, implantation, and pregnancy. However, in the case of chronic inflammation, these inflammatory cells react to “false alarms” and can cause reproductive and hormone conditions including PCOS, endometriosis, and infertility. Vegetarian, especially vegan, diets have been associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers in the body.
Supports Gut Health
Fruits and vegetables contain prebiotics (fiber, resistant starch, and certain sugars) that support gut health by regulating the removal of waste and toxins from the body. Prebiotics are especially known as microbiome “fertilizers” that stimulate the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Research shows that healthy gut bacteria can play a powerful role in women’s health due to their interaction with estrogens, androgens, insulin, and other hormones that are essential for healthy cycles, ovulation, and pregnancy. As a result, poor gut health may promote hormone and reproductive complications like PCOS, endometriosis, thyroid disorders, ovarian dysfunction, infertility, and female reproductive cancers.
Not committed to the vegetarian lifestyle?
Try “Meatless Mondays” or dedicate one meal – breakfast lunch, or dinner – to vegetarian cooking each day. Fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables during meals, drink your fruits and vegetables with smoothies, or blend vegetables for flavorful soups and sauces. Join us in celebrating plant-based and vegetarian cuisine all year long by adding more plants to your diet.
There are many creative and tasty ways to incorporate more fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and whole grains into your diet to improve your reproductive and overall health.
Book a call with our holistic plant-based womens health registered dietitian to learn more about plant-based eating and receive personalized guidance for your unique needs based on where you are in the lifecycle (Adolescences, Young Women, Older Women and Motherhood: before pregnancy, during, and beyond). As a bonus, you will also interact with our healthcare team members for additional support.