Research Confirms That a Mostly Plant-Based Diet Could Save Your Life

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Five new studies show that eating healthy, primarily vegetarian foods is associated with lower risk of chronic diseases, weight gain and death.

What science has to say about nutrition is notoriously fickle, but advice about the benefits of eating more plants and less meat has been pretty consistent in the modern era. Not only is a vegetarian diet great for the planet, but it's great for our personal health as well. Now adding to the consensus are five new studies presented at Nutrition 2018, the flagship meeting of the American Society for Nutrition.

Each of the studies examine the health impacts of a plant-based diet – and importantly, a plant-based diet comprised of healthy plant-based foods. Here's what they conclude.

Study #1: Evidence suggests a plant-based diet lowers heart disease risk
The study of some 6,000 people in the Netherlands found that those who consumed more plant-based protein in stead of animal-based protein showed a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease during a median follow-up period of more than 13 years. The research was led by Kim V.E. Braun from the Erasmus University Medical Center, in Rotterdam.

Study #2: Eating more plant protein and less animal-based protein is linked to less plaque in the arteries
This study looked at the type of protein consumed and how that affected participants' coronary artery calcification scores. Of the 4,500 Brazilian adults, those who regularly consumed more plant-based protein were nearly 60 percent less likely than those consuming more animal-based protein to show evidence of plaque in the heart's arteries, a measure of plaque buildup commonly used to assess heart disease risk.

Study #3: Vegetarian diet associated with reduced risk factors for heart disease and diabetes
This study examined the diets of South Asians living in the United States and found that those following a vegetarian diet had a lower number of risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, including a lower body mass index, smaller waist circumference and lower amounts of abdominal fat, lower cholesterol and lower blood sugar compared to people in the same demographic group who ate meat.

Study #4: Eating healthy plant-based foods associated with less weight gain
Well this one may not come as much of a surprise. In an analysis of weight gain and loss among more than 125,000 adults over a 4-year period, plant-based diets rich in high-quality plant-based foods (such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts) were associated with less weight gain, while eating unhealthy plant-based foods (such as sweets, refined grains and fries) was associated with significantly greater weight gain. Which is a good reminder that being a junk-food vegetarian isn't enough.

Study #5: Eating higher quality plant-based foods associated with lower risk of death
This one is interesting. A study of nearly 30,000 US adults concluded that a higher quality diet adds to a longer life. But the quality of plant-based foods in the diet is more important than the quality of animal-based foods. Better options in the plant-based areas of the diet lowered mortality by 30 percent ... while higher quality animal-based choices had little effect on mortality. The authors conclude: "Improving the quality of plant-based dietary components may play a more important role in reducing mortality than improving the quality of animal-based ones, especially among individuals with chronic health conditions."

So what's the takeaway? Not much has changed in the last decade since Michael Pollan advised us all to "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." Except, maybe, to make sure those plants have not been processed into plant-based junk food.

See more at Nutrition 2018.