Are All Vegetarian Diets Good?

Vegetarian diets have received a lot of attention promoting its health benefits. However when it comes to scientific studies and health outcomes, the results have been mixed. Researchers felt that vegetarian foods types probably were not sub-classified far enough. A recent study to reclassify these foods helped shed some light on this possibility. The study by Satija published in Journal of the American College of Cardiology looked this issue. Researchers separated those who ate a healthful plant based diet defined as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. The unhealthful vegetarian diet made up the other group defined as more refined starches, sugar sweetened beverages, and potatoes/fries, and sweets. These two diet types were compared to those who ate animal products for heart disease outcomes.

The finding was that an unhealthful vegetarian diet had the same heart disease risk as those who ate meat. Only the healthful vegan diet lowered heart disease risk. Moreover, the closer the adherence to a healthy plant based diet, the greater the improvement in heart disease risk. The reverse was also true. The more unhealthy plant based foods, the higher the heart disease risk.

Other studies confirmed the more fruits and vegetables included in the diet, the lower the heart disease risk, though the effect seemed to peak somewhere between 6 to 8 servings per day. Currently the average American consumes about one and a half to two servings per day. Again the goal is for whole fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts, and unprocessed grains. Emphasis is made on avoiding processed foods. Interestingly, current USDA dietary guidelines do not make any differences of healthy versus unhealthy food choices.

Health benefits are multiple, not just the prevention of heart disease. There is also improved blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight loss as well. Besides enjoying improved health from chronic diseases, many notice an improvement in athletic performance and improvement in wound healing aw well as a sense of well-being. Though never really discussed publicly, making the right food choices has a profound impact on health. Knowing which foods to choose and which to minimize can become a challenge. Emphasis is made on choosing whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. Foods to minimize include animal products, especially processed meats, refined grains, sugars, and fried foods.

Additional Reading:

Healthful and Unhealthful Plant-Based Diets and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in U.S. Adults. Satija, 2017.

Vegetarian diets: what do we know of their effects on common chronic diseases? Fraser, 2009.

Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review and dose response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Wang, 2014.

Let them eat fruit! The effect of fruit and vegetable consumption on psychological well-being in young adults: A randomized controlled trial. Conner, 2017.