Plant-based diets have been highlighted as one of the top food trends of 2019. Population studies suggest that following a plant-based diet which is rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals may help lower blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol, reduce your risk of diabetes, help maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk of heart disease.1 But, population studies can’t tease out how diet may cause disease or specifically impact your health.
Simply avoiding meat and animal products does not necessarily lead to a healthier diet as one study discovered by comparing the effect of different plant-based diet patterns on heart health.2
They found that a “healthy” plant-based diet that emphasized fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds while reducing intake of animal foods resulted in a much greater reduction in cardiovascular risk than an “unhealthy” plant-based diet that emphasized consumption of less healthy plant foods, such as fruit juices, refined grains (pasta, white rice, and processed breads and cereals), potatoes (French fries and potato chips), and sugar-sweetened beverages, while still reducing intake of animal foods.
So, it is really in the food choices you make?
But what does a plant-based diet really look like?
Following a plant-based diet pattern doesn’t necessarily mean that you are vegetarian or vegan, but that you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources. Vegetarian diets exclude all meats, including poultry and fish, though some versions of vegetarianism do allow fish. Eggs and dairy are generally allowed. Vegan diets, the strictest version of a vegetarian diet, exclude all animal products, even eggs, dairy and foods that are made from some form of animal product (like honey).
While these diets are defined by what they exclude, a plant-based diet should really be defined by what it includes.
Ultimately, research shows that you don’t need to go full vegetarian or vegan to get the best health benefits. Simply start by adding more heart-healthy foods such as green leafy vegetables and whole grains to your diet while gradually replacing animal foods with plant foods like beans and nuts.
Even moderate changes to your diet can have a lasting impact on your health.
Want to know more about plant-based diets?
Post your question in the comment section below or email the food coach team.
1. Publishing, H. H. (n.d.). The right plant-based diet for you. Retrieved January 28, 2019, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-right-plant-based-diet-for-you
2. Satija, A., Bhupathiraju, S. N., Spiegelman, D., Chiuve, S. E., Manson, J. E., Willett, W., … Hu, F. B. (2017). Healthful and Unhealthful Plant-Based Diets and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in U.S. Adults. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 70(4), 411–422. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2017.05.047