Plant based Diets: are they backed by Clinical Trials?

In recent years, plant based diets -- those which avoid meat, dairy, eggs, and processed foods in favor of whole, unprocessed ingredients-- have become increasingly popular.


Some of the most popular plant-based diets include:

  • Vegetarianism -- which includes no meat

  • Veganism -- a type of vegetarian diet that excludes not just meat but also animal products, such as milk or eggs

  • Pescatarian diet-- Which is primarily vegetarian but also includes seafood.

From social media posts to high-budget documentaries touting the benefits of sticking to plants, most people don’t have to look hard to find examples of this dietary wave. A lot of the information online is in favor of making the switch to plant based eating, and the most extreme followers even hail it as the superior choice to other diets. Today, we’ll take a look at some of the most recent clinical research into plant based eating to evaluate the facts behind the fad.


Health Benefits

Given last week’s overview of the United state’s prevalence of high blood pressure, it’s no surprise that many have turned to plant based diets as a method of combating the issue. Current research suggests that switching to a largely plant-based diet may be a cost effective, low-risk option for preventing or intervening in cases of high blood pressure. The risk of heart disease has also been found to be about 22% lower in vegetarians.


Further, studies suggest that while greater research is needed to isolate the effectiveness of a plant-based diet versus simply eliminating highly processed foods, choosing to make the switch to a plant-focused diet can help to prevent and decrease obesity and any accompanying health issues.


These diets may also have a benefit on your mental health, according to studies suggesting there may be a link to plant based eating and lower instances of depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

Limitations

Plant based eating does of course come with the potential risk of inadequate protein, vitamin, and mineral intake. However, these risks are easily mitigated with choosing the proper plant based food sources, and in some cases taking supplements. It is more of a concern that people may opt for the exclusionary aspects of plant based eating (focusing solely on not eating things such as meat or dairy) and believe that while they avoid these food groups, everything else is a “healthy” choice even if the alternatives are highly processed or un-nourishing -- rather than pursuing an overall balanced, whole-foods diet. It should always be noted that: “The nutritional quality of consumed plant foods is as important as limiting animal-based components.”


Social Considerations

While there are undoubtedly health benefits to pursuing a less processed and perhaps more plant based diet, it is important to remember that this option is not as accessible for everyone. It also may not be the best choice for each individual’s health or overall circumstances, and one should always consult a medical professional where possible before initiating a diet overhaul.


It also cannot be ignored that some aspects of a plant based diet greatly favor those in positions of social, racial, and financial privilege, and are not as accessible for people living in lower-income areas or in areas afflicted by “food deserts,” where certain plant-based substitutes (such as soy protein or plant milks) are not available at all, or are very costly.


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