The health benefits of a plant-based diet were highlighted by new data presented at Nutrition 2018, the flagship meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, earlier this month.
The research, based on studies from the Netherlands, Brazil, and the U.S., linked “vegetarian-type” diets to health benefits including lower risk of coronary heart disease, fewer risk factors for diabetes, and a lowered chance of weight gain. These benefits have also been highlighted by other studies, including a February study in the journal Nutrients that pointed to the benefits of a plant-based diet in the prevention of diabetes and a Canadian study published last year that indicated that a plant-based diet reduced the chances of developing cardiovascular disease.
The data also showed that it is not necessary to eat a strict plant-based diet to reap these health benefits: the report indicated that a diet rich in plant-based foods, even if it does still feature some animal-derived elements, could be beneficial. This suggestion seems to confirm the findings of a study from the Icahn School of Medicine in New York, published last year. This study showed that people who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables (without necessarily cutting out all animal-derived foods) were 42 percent less likely to develop heart failure.
This tendency towards a plant-based diet is also in line with the way that many Americans are eating today: while the meat alternatives market has skyrocketed in recent years, with a Markets and Markets report estimating it may reach $6.43 billion by 2023, Food Dive notes that even people who choose plant-based meat alternatives are less likely than ever before to sport the label “vegan” or “vegetarian.”
The new data also highlighted the importance of food quality with regards to reaping these health benefits. One Harvard study featured at the conference and highlighted by Medical News Today found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that those who ate “a lot of high-quality plant-based foods, such as whole grains, nuts, vegetables, and fruits” were less likely to gain weight than those who ate plant-based junk like fries and candy, and a team from the Friedman School of Nutritional Science found that the quality of plant-based foods is more important than that of animal-based foods in terms of health. Consuming “high-quality animal-based foods,” reports Medical News Today, “was not associated with any significant benefits for mortality.”
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