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SuedeWellness > News > News > Plant based diets: Are they healthier or are they just another fad diet?

Plant based diets: Are they healthier or are they just another fad diet?

The new buzzword in the nutrition community is plant-based diets. A “plant-based diet” describes a wide variety of dietary patterns which contain lower amounts of animal source foods, such as dairy and meat[1] and higher amounts of plant-source foods. Although plant-based diets need not exclude any food groups, they can be further defined as vegetarian (excluding meat, but often including dairy and eggs) or vegan (excluding all animal products)[2].

Reasons for choosing plant-based diets vary and include ethical, environmental & health factors. Eating plant-based diets reduces the amount of animal-source foods required thereby reducing the demand and these consumers are also choosing more ethical farming methods such as pasture-fed beef, free-range eggs etc., subsequently reducing the mistreatment of livestock. By reducing animal product intake, it also reduces the demand and consequentially also lessens the environmental impact[3] that animal husbandry has[4].

For example, so many more resources (such as water, feed, and land use) are used to produce 1 kg of beef compared to producing 1 kg of beans. Farming animals also contributes greatly to harmful carbon emissions that add to global warming (whereas plant farming especially with legumes often removes carbon from the atmosphere thereby having a negative carbon emission).

Plant based diets have also been shown to have numerous health benefits due to their high micronutrient (vitamins and minerals), anti-oxidant, dietary fibre, and unsaturated fat content1, and their lower sugar, saturated fat, sodium, nitrites and nitrates content[5]. Some of these health benefits include gastro-intestinal health (the high fibre and prebiotics content helps regulate gastro-intestinal micro-biome health and gastro-intestinal function) as well as cardiovascular benefits by reducing the risk of cardiovascular complications such as hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke[6]. Plant-based diets have also been linked to lower cancer risks[7] and lower risk of obesity.

But not all plant-based diets are created equal. There is a spectrum on which plant-based diets can fall. On the one end is the unhealthy plant based diet which is high in highly processed foods, refined grains, fruit juices, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets/desserts[8]. While on the other end is the healthy plant-based diet which is high in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes (lentils, chickpeas, split peas, and beans), vegetable oils and generally unprocessed foods.

While both types have lower to no amounts of animal products, the majority of the benefits of following a plant-based diet come from following one that is on the healthier end of the spectrum (as described above). And even just a small overall dietary change to a more plant-based way of eating (such as “meat free Mondays”) can have a positive impact on your health.

For more information on plant-based diets, specific recipes and individualized meals plans etc. please contact me on dietitian@suedewellness.co.za or any other registered dietitian to make an appointment.

CARMYN GAST, REGISTERED DIETITIAN

References:

1] Satija A, Hu FB. Plant-based diets and cardiovascular health. Trends Cardiovasc Med. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tcm. 2018.02.004

[2] Hemler EC, Hu FB. Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention: All Plant Foods Are Not Created Equal. Nutrition Current Atherosclerosis Reports (2019) 21: 18. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11883-019-0779-5.

[3] Springmann M,Wiebe K, Mason-D’Croz D, Sulser TB, Rayner M, Scarborough P. Health and nutritional aspects of sustainable diet strategies and their association with environmental impacts: a global modelling analysis with country-level detail. Lancet Planet Health. 2018; 2 (10):e451–e61. https://doi.org/10.1016/s2542-5196(18)30206-7  .

[4] Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Scientific report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services; 2015.

[5] Satija A, Bhupathiraju SN, Spiegelman D, Chiuve SE, Manson JE, Willett W, et al. Healthful and unhealthful plant-based diets and the risk of coronary heart disease in U.S. adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2017; 70 (4):411–22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2017.05.047

[6] Key TJ, Fraser GE, ThorogoodM, Appleby PN, BeralV, Reeves G, et al. Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999; 70 (3 Suppl):516s–24s. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/70.3.516s .

[7] Huang T, Yang B, Zheng J, Li G, Wahlqvist ML, Li D.bCardiovascular disease mortality and cancer incidence in vegetarians: a meta-analysis and systematic review. Ann Nutr Metab. 2012; 60 (4):233–40. https://doi.org/10.1159/000337301 .

[8] Reynolds A, Mann J, Cummings J,Winter N, Mete E, Te Morenga L. Carbohydrate quality and human health: a series of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Lancet (London, England). 2019. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(18)31809-9.