You will have come across people who follow a plant-based diet and end up wondering what does it consist of.
A plant-based diet contains vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and meat substitutes such as soy.
Eating a plant-based diet cuts the odds of getting hypertension, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes compared to a meat-based diet.
A significant benefit of embracing a plant-based diet is the lowered risk of cardiovascular disease. This brings us to a question – Does every diet have the same effect? And is it necessary to cut out meat from the diet altogether to avoid heart diseases?
For a healthy heart, the diet should be focusing more on the quality rather than the quantity of plant-based foods, and its associated benefits on the heart.
Make Good ChoicesLike any other diet, even the plant-based diet has many types, of which the three common ones are:
- Lacto-vegetarian: Includes dairy products, but no eggs or meat
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Includes eggs and dairy products, but no meat
- Vegan: Complete avoidance of animal products like eggs, dairy products, or meat
Whatever be the type of plant-based diet, all of them emphasize the use of foods that benefits the heart. Some of the diets that have been known to have a tremendous impact on the heart are the Mediterranean diet, the MIND diet, and the DASH diet.
These diets have plenty of fiber, minerals, vitamins which play an essential role in lowering LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, reducing diabetes risk, and maintaining a healthy weight, which indirectly decreases the chances of heart disease.
That said, not all plant-based foods are healthy. The type of food and its source is also essential. White bread is made from a plant source, but it is highly processed, depleting it of healthy nutrients.
It also has a high glycemic index, which makes it unhealthy for people who have type 2 diabetes.
Similarly, having 100% fruit juice is not similar to eating whole fruit, since the juice has lots of sugar and valuable vitamins and fiber have been squeezed out. Also, canned plant food falls in the unhealthy category as they contain excess sodium, sugar, and extra additives.
Is the Avoidance of Animal-Based Food Healthy?So, does complete avoidance of animal-based food make the diet follower healthy? Not necessarily.
A study published in 2017 examined dietary day of more than 200,000 adults for over two decades.
The study showed that people who followed a healthy plant-based diet that consisted of consuming healthy plant foods, like legumes, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, healthy oils, and intake of dairy products like milk, eggs, etc. were healthier and had decreased risk for cardiovascular disease.
These people were also leaner and more active.
While this particular study didn't focus on meat, other studies have shown that eating more than 75 grams of meat every day increased the chances of having a cardiovascular disease by 28% compared to those who had less than 25 grams.
The Way ForwardThis brings us back to the original question. Which plant-based diet is right for you? One doesn’t need to avoid all animal products and become vegan to get the best benefits.
Instead, the focus should be more on eating the right foods, eliminating unhealthy foods, avoiding the wrong kind of food, and moderating the consumption of healthier animal products.
If you feel intimated by making the change to full-plant -based, start slowly. Change your diet slowly, reduce the intake of unhealthy food by small portions.
Reduce the portion of meat by one or two servings and replace them with nuts and legumes. Small steps over a period will allow your body to adjust and make the process of embracing a plant-based diet a smooth affair.