The reasons for eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables every day aren’t top secret, even despite our ongoing attempts to find ways around that reality. We know they provide significant health benefits, from much-needed fiber to crucial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, much more so than most any other food, particularly the greasy, processed, and meat-based fast and junk foods you're probably thinking about right now. And now there’s yet another reason to load up your plate with whole plant-based foods: consuming them regularly is connected with a nearly fifty-percent reduced risk of developing obesity.
In a soon-to-be published study, researchers out of the University of Navarra and the Carlos III Institute of Health (both in Spain), found that predominantly plant-based diets are linked with a “substantially lower risk of developing obesity” than diets high in animal foods.
This wasn’t a small research project with a handful of subjects, either. The study included more than 16,000 adults over the course of ten years.
Study participants were rated on dietary behaviors, including the consumption of plant-based foods including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, and legumes (peas, beans, and lentils). They were also rated on the consumption of meat, eggs, dairy, and fish consumption.
Scores were tallied based on the foods consumed (plants earned subjects points while animal products led to points being taken away), and the subjects were then placed into one of five groups based on their scores. The highest scores – those connected to a predominantly plant-based vegan or vegetarian diet, had a reduced obesity risk 43 percent lower than those subjects who consumed the least amount of plant-based foods. The study controlled for numerous risk factors, including genetics, age, sex, physical activity, and smoking.
“Americans simply aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables,” says Megan Casper, M.S., RDN owner of Megan Casper Nutrition and writer for Nourished Bite.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends consuming close to five cups of fruits and vegetables every day, a recent study found Americans fall well below that -- 76 percent didn’t meet the recommended fruit intake and 87 percent missed the vegetable mark.
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“Not only is a plant-based diet rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients but it contains fewer calories and fat, meaning vegetarians tend to eat fewer calories, weigh less, and have a lower risk of heart disease,” says Casper.
Obesity and other diet-related illnesses were shown to be less prevalent in the research conducted by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. The work, best known as The China Study, found that people who consumed a predominantly plant-based diet were significantly less likely to suffer from heart disease, obesity, and certain types of cancer.
“Quite simply, the more you substitute plant foods for animal foods, the healthier you are likely to be. I now consider veganism to be the ideal diet," Dr. Campbell says. "In every respect, vegans appear to enjoy equal or better health in comparison to both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.”
Obesity has reached epidemic levels in the U.S., with more than two-thirds of adults (68 percent), considered overweight or obese. Obesity can lead to serious health conditions including type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
U.S. News & World Report recently named the plant-based diet its top diet choice for the seventh straight year.
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