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Plant-based diet lowers risk for chronic diseases, weight gain, death

Several studies presented at Nutrition 2018 highlighted the health benefits of a vegetarian or primarily plant-based diet.

Alaina Tedesco, Healio, Jun 11, 2018

The findings suggest that consuming such healthful diets is associated with a reduced risk for chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as weight gain and death.

The researchers also noted that eating high quality plant-based food is important to reap all the associated benefits.

Chronic diseases

Kim Braun, MSc, from Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and colleagues studied the relationship between macronutrient intake and coronary heart disease among 5,905 participants from the Rotterdam Study.

During a median follow-up of more than 13 years, participants who ate more plant protein and less animal-derived protein had a lower risk for coronary heart disease (HR = 0.54; 95% CI, 0.3-0.97). Those who consumed more plant protein and less saturated fat also had a reduced risk for heart disease (HR = 0.56; 95% CI 0.33-0.98).

Additionally, participants who ate more animal protein and less plant protein had a higher likelihood of incident heart disease (HR = 1.64; 95% CI 1.01-2.68). The researchers found no association between total protein and heart disease.

In another study, Dirce Marchioni, PhD, from the University of São Paulo in Brazil, and colleagues performed a cross-sectional analysis of 4,546 adults to investigate how protein type influences coronary artery calcification score.

They found that participants who regularly ate more plant-based protein were nearly 60% less likely than those who ate more animal-based protein to develop plaque in the arteries.

A separate study led by Sameera Talegawkar, PhD, from George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, focused on uncovering the associations between a vegetarian diet and cardiometabolic health among 892 South Asians living in the United States (mean age, 55 years).

Talegawkar and colleagues found that the 38% of participants who adhered to a vegetarian diet were less likely to have risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. These participants also had a lower BMI, lower waist circumference, and smaller amounts of abdominal fat, cholesterol and blood sugar than those in the same demographic group who followed a nonvegetarian diet.

Weight gain

Ambika Satija , ScD, from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and colleagues analyzed data from three large cohorts involving more than 125,000 adults to determine how changes in intake of variations of plant-based diets affects weight change.

The results showed that participants who had a greater intake of high-quality plant-based foods - including whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts - had less weight gain, whereas those who consumed more unhealthful plant-based foods - such as sweets, refined grains and fries - displayed significantly greater weight gain.


In another study, Fang Fang Zhang, MD, PhD, from Friedman School of Nutrition Science at Tufts University, and colleagues assessed dietary data from the 1999 to 2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (n = 29,113) to determine how the quality of a plant-based diet affects mortality compared with an animal-based diet.

During a median follow-up of 7.8 years, participants who followed a higher quality plant-based diet were 27% less likely to die of any cause and 37% less likely to die of cancer. The significant association between consuming high-quality plant-based foods and lower all-cause mortality and cancer mortality remained after researchers controlled for animal-based foods.

Consumption of higher quality animal-based foods did not appear associated with mortality.

Participants with chronic health conditions at baseline demonstrated a stronger association between plant-based diet and lower all-cause mortality, as well as mortality due to CVD and cancer.

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