Plant-based diets have become big business. Vegan ready meals and vegan options in restaurants are now standard thanks to the meteoric rise in the popularity of veganism. Nutrition 2018 – the meeting of the American Society for Nutrition showcased no less than five studies on plant-based diets!
What is Nutrition 2018?
Nutrition 2018 is the inaugural flagship meeting of the American Society for Nutrition and your source for high-quality nutrition research and news. The meeting was held June 9-12, 2018 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.
Each year, researchers, scientists and nutrition practitioners gather to discuss research findings and explore how they might affect practice and policy. Poster abstracts that were presented to the delegates were announced ahead.
What was presented on plant-based diets?
- Eating more plant protein and less animal protein was associated with lower risk of coronary artery disease. In a study of almost 6000 Dutch people – those who ate more vegetables compared to animal-based protein showed a lower risk of developing heart disease over an average period of 13 years.
- Eating more plant protein and less animal protein was associated with less plaque in the coronary arteries. In a study of 4500 Brazilians suggested that those who ate more vegetable protein compared to animal protein were almost 60% less likely to have furring of the arteries.
- Vegetarian diets were associated with fewer risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. In a study of south Asians living in the US, those following a vegetarian diet had lower body mass, smaller waists, less abdominal fat, lower blood cholesterol – all factors which contribute to heart disease and diabetes.
- Eating healthful plant-based foods associated with less weight gain. In a large study of over 125,000 American people over 4 years showed that following a plant-based diet that was rich in healthful proteins such as wholegrains, nuts, fruit and vegetables with low refined grains, processed foods and sugar made a significant difference in weight stabilisation. Following plant-based diets isn’t enough, we still have to choose healthy options.
- Eating higher quality plant-based foods associated with lower risk of death. In a study of almost 30,000 Americans, eating a high quality plant-based diet (more fruit, vegetables, nuts and less sugar and processed food) was associated with longer, healthier lives. The study found that eating a good quality plant-based diet was better than eating a good quality animal-based diet. This was also true for people who had chronic conditions.
What does this all mean?
Well research doesn’t become science until it’s been properly peer-reviewed and published. These are poster presentations at a nutrition conference informing nutrition professionals what’s being looked at over the past 12 months.
Therefore we can only look at this for the purposes of interest, and not science (yet – although there is already science published that backs-up many of these findings).
However, there are two important themes here for those on a plant-based diet or thinking of pursuing one:
- Cutting back on meat alone isn’t enough. You have to base your meals around a range of different vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, and nuts. Cut back on highly processed foods and foods high in refined sugar.
- Once you follow a good healthful plant-based diet, your chances of heart disease and diabetes are lower, you’re more likely to maintain a good weight and it’s less likely you’ll die young, even if you already have a chronic condition.
Why is this?
Plant-based diets tend to be higher in anti-inflammatory compounds, and compounds that help and aid the body detoxify.
Slightly out there, but plant-based diets are often high in dietary fibre. Very high! In fact, we know that a typical US/British diet is far too low in dietary fibre – which hasn’t been helped by the diet crazes of recent years including (but not limited to) the Paleo diet and Atkins.
Dietary fibre promotes a very healthy environment for certain types of bacteria that reside in our large bowel (colon) – and there is a staggering amount of scientific evidence being published now that’s linking the types of bacteria in our gut with health and disease.
For years, we believed that bacteria that live with us in and on our bodies were just hitch-hikers, taking advantage of things we don’t want (undigested food, sweat etc). But now we know that:
- We are as much bacteria as we are human. For every cell in your body, there is a bacteria. It was once thought that we were more bacteria that human and until very recently, we thought there were ten times more bacteria! For some of us, that could be true! As this is based on averages.
- Bacteria are not hitch-hikers! We have a symbiotic relationship with them! Symbiosis means that we need them as much as they need us. If we were totally sterile, we would not survive long at all.
- Bacteria in our gut have been linked with various physical and mental health conditions such as: our weight, skin diseases, depression, autoimmune conditions, inflammation among others.
With such a booming interest in plant-based diets, we’re inevitably going to attract more scientific interest.
What is a plant-based diet?
So you’re convinced! But does this mean going vegan? Often these conversations end in that horror-stricken look that leads many people resigning to the fact that this can never be applicable to them, because veganism is just unpalatable.
Let’s be clear – being plant-based is not about being vegan. Plant-based simply means putting plants at the heart of your meal-planning – making them the champion, not the after-thought. You can still consume animal-based products, but they should slide right down the bottom of your shopping list.
The most strict plant-based dieter is a vegan – that’s true, but the least strict is a flexitarian. Flexitarians are vegetarian most of the time, and eat meat a few times per week.
The advantages of being flexitarian is that you can more afford to be fussy with meat. Whereas meat-eaters will eat meat everyday and often several times a day, they’ll often choose more economic cuts. A flexitarian eats meat much less often, and splashes out on organic, free-range meat.
So if you can’t give meat up – there’s always a compromise!
Angele J – Pexels.com
Seb is a nutritionist registered with the Association for Nutrition and a writer specialising in plant-based nutrition and men’s health. He graduated from Chester University with a masters degree in human nutrition and loves discovering new and vibrant plant-based recipes.