The Pros and Cons of Plant Based Diets

The Pros and Cons of Plant Based Diets


The recent rush to adopt ‘plant-based diets’ has been shown by researchers from Harvard University to have its nutritional ups…but also some potential downs. Flying in the face of the common perception that ‘vegetarian always equals healthier’, American scientists discovered a caveat to this assumption. Having studied the eating patterns of more than 200,000 doctors and nurses across the U.S. over a time of more than 20 years, it transpires that as with any style of eating, there are ‘better’ and ‘worse’ versions of plant-based diets.


Having waded through the meal and snack diaries of health care professionals over this extended period of time, researchers were able to give them scores according to the diets’ ‘healthiness’. Results, as expected, revealed that sticking closely with a healthy version of a vegetarian style of eating was good news. In fact, eating in this way turned out to be linked with 34% reduction in the risk of developing type-two diabetes. However, if the diet was ‘plant based’ and yet included refined grains and sugar-sweetened drinks, this reduction fell to 16%. In between lay those people who had a healthy veggie style of eating but who also allowed themselves some animal-based foods. Their risk of developing type two diabetes hovered around the 20%.


Interestingly, even modestly changing consumption of animal foods (meat, fish and dairy) for instance lowering them from five to six to four times a day was again linked to a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes. The bottom line is that tucking into vegetables, fruits, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds appears to be good not only for protecting against this form of diabetes, but to also be helpful to everything from your heart, brain functioning and weight.


It is strongly suspected that these health bonuses are likely to be down to the higher antioxidants, unsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals woofed down in healthy plant-based diets, which tend to go hand in hand with lower saturated fats and fewer fast release sugars. While these benefits are well documented there is one more word of caution. If you or anyone you know intends to go animal-product free and convert to full on veganism, encourage them to do their nutritional homework. The Vegan Society website is a great place to start to help avoid falling into potential pitfalls such as vitamin B 12 deficiency, which can lead to irreversible nerve damage and problems like eating too little of the minerals iron and calcium and too few omega 3 essential fats.


To end on a positive note, the benefits of upping plant-based foods come with another plus, which is down to the increase that such as switch usually creates, which is an increase in fibre. Soluble and insoluble fibres in fruits, vegetables and wholegrains positively help our gut bacteria known as our ‘microbiome’. These fibres along with plant compounds like inulin and the resistant starches found in cooked pulses help to create a well-balanced microbiome that appears capable of dampening inflammation while boosting everything from immunity to mood.