It’s hard to dispute the health benefits of plant-based eating. Compared to meat-eaters, people who eat vegetarian or vegan diets have been found to have lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure, leaner bodies, a decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes, healthier gut bacteria and even better moods.
Now, findings from a new study published online in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition add to the growing list of health benefits attributed to meatless eating. The review of 10 prospective studies concluded that vegetarian and vegan diets cut the risk of developing and/or dying from coronary heart disease by 25 per cent. Following such a diet was also found to reduce the risk of cancer.
Motivating stuff, for sure. (Environmental sustainability and animal welfare are other solid reasons to adopt a plant-based diet.)
If you’re considering ditching your meat-and-potatoes (or chicken-and-rice) diet, though, you may have concerns. Can you properly nourish your body without animal foods?
Some argue that adopting a vegan diet is a bad idea from a nutritional perspective. It can put you at risk for missing out on nutrients, ones that can be met easily by including a little meat and dairy in your diet.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics doesn’t agree, however. Last month, the 100,000-strong U.S. organization issued a position stating that vegetarian and vegan diets – if properly planned – meet the nutritional needs for all stages of life, including infancy, pregnancy, childhood, adolescence and beyond.
A few definitions are in order since vegetarian diets cover a wide spectrum. Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat dairy and eggs but avoid meat, poultry and fish. Pescatarians eat fish and seafood and flexitarians eat meat and fish only occasionally.
Vegans don’t eat (and often don’t wear) any animal products, including honey.
Unlike vegan diets, plant-based diets aren’t defined by the animal foods they exclude. Rather, they’re characterized by the foods they do include: plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Whether you’re considering a vegan or a plant-based diet – or you’ve already made the switch – planning is essential. Include the following foods (and in some cases, supplements) in your diet to help meet key nutrient needs.
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