There is increasing evidence that plant-based diets keep us healthier. More whole, plant-based foods and less animal foods, refined and processed foods are linked to lower risks of developing obesity, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.

The different types of plant-based diets include:

  • Vegan – no animal, seafood, eggs or dairy
  • Raw food, vegan – same as above but no foods cooked above 48 degree Celsius
  • Lacto-vegetarian – no eggs, meat, seafood
  • Ovo-vegetarian – no meat, seafood, dairy
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian – no meat, seafood
  • Mediterranean – whole-foods, plant-based diet with small amounts of chicken, dairy products, eggs, and red meat once or twice per month, plenty of fish and olive oil

The benefits are compelling:

  • Weight loss – a study (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) investigating meat-eating, fish-eating, vegetarian, and vegan men and women in the United Kingdom found that meat eaters having the highest body mass index (BMI) and vegans the lowest BMI. Vegetarian diets have been shown to reduce weight by 7.6 kg for men and 3.3 kg for women
  • Diabetes – studies have shown vegetarians have half the risk of developing diabetes. In a sample of 60,000 people, the rate of diabetes was 2.9% for those on a vegan diet, compared with 7.6% in nonvegetarians. For those that have diabetes, plant-based diets reduce the amount of medications needed and enable better sugar control
  • Heart disease – Mediterranean diet showed a 73% decrease in coronary events and a 70% decrease in all-cause mortality over just 2 years in a large study. Vegetarians have a 24% reduction in heart disease death rate compared with nonvegetarians. Some studies have shown coronary artery disease to actually regress (get better) in plant-based diet participants
  • Blood pressure and cholesterol – vegetarian diets are associated with lower systolic blood pressure (when the heart pumps), lower diastolic blood pressure (when the heart relaxes) and lower cholesterol levels
  • Mortality – Vegetarians have a 29% lower ischemic heart disease rate of death than non-vegetarians

Whilst the benefits are established, it is important to ensure adequate and balanced nutrition when consuming a plant-based diet, including:

  • Adequate protein for muscle strength – high protein foods include quinoa, tofu, seitan, lentils, chickpeas and edamame
  • Adequate iron for energy and strong immunity – kidney beans, black beans, soybeans, spinach, raisins, cashews, oatmeal and cabbage
  • Adequate B12 for blood formation – may require supplements if no meat products at all
  • Adequate calcium for bone mineralisation – tofu, mustard and turnip greens, kale
  • Adequate fatty acids for healthy skin, hair and nails – ground flax seeds, flax oil, walnuts and canola oil

With increasing attention to “we are what we eat”, we encourage everyone to increase vegetables in their diet, reduce meat from being the centerpiece of a meal to smaller portions, choosing good fats (olive oil, nuts and nut butters, seeds, avocados) and consuming whole grains (oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, barley). Noteworthy advice as we head into the Christmas period!

References:

  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3662288/
  • https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vegan-diet-studies
  • https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/protein-for-vegans-vegetarians#section5
  • https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-a-plant-based-diet-and-why-should-you-try-it-2018092614760
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