THOSE in the vegetarian and vegan camps have long claimed that a plant-based diet is healthier than eating meat.
However, plant-based diets that include sweet food and drink, refined grains and potatoes can lead to a higher risk of heart disease, according to a study published this month in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Participants whose diets included more animal-based foods were less likely to develop a heart disease or die during the study period than those who followed unhealthy plant-based diets.
The lead author of the study Ambika Satija, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard T. H. Clan School of Public Health, said “[t]he study is encouraging in the sense that you don’t have to completely eliminate all animal foods from your diet in order to get a heart benefit”.
In an editorial appearing alongside the study, Dr Him Allan Williams Sr. of Rush University Medical Centre wrote that cardiologists should not be pushing “all-or-none” diets.
The study compiled samples from more than 200,000 participants who were followed up with a questionnaire every two years for twenty years.
The researchers designed three separate diets: one emphasised plant food with a reduced animal food intake, one emphasised only healthy vegetarian plant foods such as grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, and the last was based on an unhealthy diet of plant foods such as refined grains.
The methodology and findings of this research is a reminder that not all vegetarian diets can be lumped into the same category. It is possible to be a vegetarian and eat low quality plant food.
The findings are an important step forward from previous research studies about the effects of vegetarian diets on cardiovascular health that treated all plant-based food equally.
“These studies of vegetarian and vegan diets haven’t distinguished between different qualities of food,” said Satija.
It can no longer be claimed that, as a whole, vegetarianism provides a healthier diet.