Your mother told you to eat your veggies… well, she was right. When we look at the research on vegetable and fruit consumption, the results are clear: higher daily intake is associated with reduced risks of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Massive studies have found that individuals who eat 5+ servings of vegetables and fruit compared to only one serving daily have a 44% reduction in cancer risk and 38% reduction in stroke risk.
Let’s take this a step further to a plant-based dietary pattern. A healthy plant-based diet aims to maximize consumption of nutrient-dense, plant-based, whole foods and reduces or minimizes intake of processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and animal products. It encourages higher intakes of vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, peas, nuts, and seeds. This style of eating is essentially a semi-vegetarian diet, since healthy, lean animal products may still be consumed in reduced amounts if desired.
Numerous studies have reported that completely vegetarian diets (that restrict all animal meat) reduce risks of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and mortality. However, comparable benefits have been found with plant-based (or semi-vegetarian) diets that also include low to moderate intakes of lean animal products. A major study of heart disease patients following a plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet that also included fish, healthy oils, and low amounts of lean meat, found that cardiac events and mortality from all causes were reduced by 73% and 70%, respectively, when compared to a diet higher in animal meats and lower in plant-based foods.
The bottom line is this… you can still eat lean animal products and reap the benefits that a plant-based diet provides. The key is to consume primarily plant-based foods, and include healthy oils such as extra-virgin olive oil, wild-caught fish such as salmon, and if desired, healthy animal proteins such as organic eggs and free-range poultry in reduced amounts. To shift to a more plant-based diet, start by aiming for 7-10 servings of vegetables and fruit daily, and replace a daily serving of animal protein with a healthy plant-based protein meal, such as a quinoa (‘keen-oh-a’) salad!
Jansen, M.C., Bueno-de-Mesquita, H.B., Feskens, E.J., Streppel, M.T., Kok, F.J. & Kromhout, D. (2004). Quantity and variety of fruit and vegetable consumption and cancer risk. Nutr Cancer, 48(2), 142-8.
Overvad, K., Stripp, C., Tjonneland, A., Husted, S.E. & Sorensen, H.T. (2003). Intake of fruit and vegetables and the risk of ischemic stroke in a cohort of Danish men and women. Am J Clin Nutr, 78(1), 57-64
Tuso, P.J., Ismail, M.H., Ha, B.P., Bartolotto, C. Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets Perm J. 2013 Spring; 17(2): 61–66.
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