Scientists may not agree whether it is the antioxidants, the fibre, or just the reduced number of calories in plants that makes eating them so good for us but they all agree that eating more of them plays a really important role in keeping us healthy.
Scores of studies demonstrate that a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals reduces the risk of dying early from all Western diseases such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, strokes and heart attacks.
As humans we can live without meat but we cannot live for very long without plants. Plants contain all the essential vitamins and minerals our bodies need as well as carbohydrates, fats and proteins. The only exception to this is vitamin B12 which cannot be obtained directly from plants but can easily be found in foods such as fish, eggs, cheese and meat. Weight for weight plants are more nutrient dense than many other foods and can displace less healthy foods from the diet.
Wholegrain cereals like oats are incredibly important for our health. They are a good source of energy and the main source of a range of nutrients in our diet such as fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins.
Some people think starchy foods are fattening, but gram for gram they contain fewer than half the calories of fat.
Plants contain many biologically active ingredients that have a physiological effect on our bodies. Beta glucan, for example, found in oats can help reduce blood cholesterol levels as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Beta-glucan in oats is concentrated in the outer layers of the grain.
Oat beta glucan is a soluble form of fibre and dissolves inside the digestive tract where it forms a thick gel – a bit like wallpaper paste. This gel is able to bind to excess cholesterol and cholesterol like substances within the gut and help to prevent these from being absorbed into the body. The gel and the cholesterol is then excreted as part of the body’s waste.
Different types of carbohydrates in plants can act as prebiotics which help to develop healthy gut bacteria (good bugs) to keep our digestive tracts healthy. Wholegrain cereals such as oats, wheat and brown rice, nuts and pulses are all great for good gut health.