Plant-based diets could improve the sexual health of men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, new research suggests.
It found eating more fruit, vegetables, grains and nuts, and reducing your meat intake, was linked with less common side effects that can impact prostate cancer patients, including erectile dysfunction and loss of bladder control.
The research – by a team at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, who analysed data from more than 3,500 men with prostate cancer – is the latest in a long line of studies linking plant-based eating with health and wellbeing benefits. So, how else could adopting more plant-based eating be good for you?
What are the wider benefits of a plant-based diet?
“There are several potential health benefits to a plant-based diet,” says Vassiliki Sinopoulou, a registered dietitian and senior research assistant at University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).
“A diet which is lower in meat and animal products can be associated with lower saturated fat consumption, increased vitamins and other health-promoting substances, and healthier body weight levels.”
It’s not just avoiding the saturated fats in animal products that benefits health – it’s the added nutrients and fibre you get from consuming more fruit, veg and beans, too.
“Polyphenols are beneficial substances found in plant-derived foods. They can be found in berries, nuts, olives/olive oil, broccoli, and other fruits and vegetables that we all recognise as healthy. Polyphenols can also be found in foods with perhaps a more controversial reputation, such as chocolate, coffee, tea and wine,” Sinopoulou adds.
“For example, they can have anti-inflammatory effects and can also help our bodies regulate blood sugar levels, help with heart problems, and have anti-cancer properties.”
Take a whole lifestyle approach
It’s important to remember, however, when it comes to supporting your health, what we eat is just part of the picture. Plant-based coach and holistic wellbeing advocate Jeffrey Boadi (jeffreyboadi.com) suggests thinking about your lifestyle overall, rather than fad diets and quick-fixes.
“Focus on how your daily actions — around your nutrition, training and sleep — support your long-term health, as opposed to quick hacks,” says Broadi, who went plant-based in 2017.
“I shifted to a plant-based diet after coming across a lot of information about how it could be beneficial for long-term health,” he adds. “I fell in love with the process of cooking from scratch and creating dishes that tasted great and were able to continue fuelling my training and lifestyle. My preference is to steer towards whole foods, but I’m not dogmatic about it — particularly in social settings.”
Keep things simple
Boadi doesn’t think healthy eating needs to be difficult, but for it to really be beneficial, it needs to become a part of your day-to-day life.
“Nutrition and fitness are important, but it’s a long-term game, which is why it has to become a part of your daily lifestyle, without a granular focus on a short-term outcome,” he explains.
“Food is supposed to nourish, be enjoyed and even bring people together. It’s not meant to create anxiety, cause people to seek unsustainable crash diets and focus solely on short-term goals that don’t support their health.
“Daily health-promoting habits practised consistently (daily exercise, good sleep habits, adding plenty of colour to your plate, and spending time with friends and family) are far more productive and effective in the long term.”
Opt for ‘real’ foods rather than processed
Going vegan doesn’t automatically make you healthier either, especially if you’re still relying on processed foods and not getting that all-important variety of whole ingredients.
“The rise of plant-based diets has seen a huge surge in ultra-processed plant-based foods that are ready to consume with no or minimal preparation. These foods can have similar profiles as ‘bad’ meat products and can negate the benefits usually associated with plant-based diets,” says Sinopoulou.
“Ultra-processed plant-based foods can lead to higher body weights, just as other ultra-processed foods. Taking the time to prepare a healthy and nutritious salad is more beneficial than eating a pre-prepared vegan burger, high in calories from meat substitutes.
“There are a lot of plant sources rich in calcium. Spinach, soy, chickpeas, almonds, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, and oranges are a few good examples.”
What about protein?
Getting enough protein in our diets is always important – and it can be possible even with a fully plant-based diet.
“If you cut off meat and meat-derived products, then legumes (beans, lentils, peas), mushrooms, soy (tofu, soymilk), nuts and seeds are your friend,” says Sinopoulou. “There’s also protein in bread, pasta, potatoes and many vegetables.
“Plant-derived protein used to be seen as of lesser quality than protein from meat products, however, that’s now considered old-fashioned thinking, as we know that the muscle mass of people who meet their protein requirements from plant-derived sources is not different to meat-eaters.”