A recent study from Loma Linda University School of Public Health in California shows that a vegetarian or vegan diet may have a positive effect on levels of antioxidants and other biomarkers that prevent disease.
The research, which was published in The Journal of Nutrition, examined differences in levels of disease-fighting biomarkers in blood, urine, and fat tissue in 840 participants eating one of five different diets: vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, or nonvegetarian. Vegans had the highest levels of biomarkers including cancer-fighting antioxidants and anti-inflammatory enterolactone. These compounds have been linked to a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, reports Medical News Study.
Vegans also boasted the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids. While the latter could be surprising, given the fact that this nutrient is usually associated with fish, the vegan diet does include omega-fatty-acid-rich nuts and seeds.
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"An awareness that a healthier biomarker profile is obtained with a plant-based diet should motivate people to be proactive about dietary habits that promote good health and prevent disease," says lead study author Fayth Miles, Ph.D.
Vegetarians closely followed vegans in terms of biomarker profiles, according to researchers. Semi-vegetarians and nonvegetarians, meanwhile, had very similar profiles, which may indicate that the increasingly popular flexitarian diet doesn't boast nearly as many health benefits as people have been led to believe.
Many similar studies on eating habits rely on food diaries in order to glean data, a technique that is unfortunately often rife with human error. A study like this may open doors for researchers to develop a more reliable way of tracking the effects of various diets on health by relying instead on biomarkers.
Plant-based diets have already been associated with a reduced risk of health problems including heart disease and diabetes. Consumption of red meat and processed meat have both been associated with increased risk of cancer.
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