Former President Bill Clinton follows a plant-based diet. So do the growing band of celebrities, professional athletes, and everyday Americans. Is it just the latest trendy diet or are these human vegetarians?
Research indicates they may have a point.
Healthcare is one of the biggest expenses for seniors. People who follow a diet built around plants — especially whole grains, legumes, and unprocessed vegetables, fruits, and nuts — tend to be healthier longer, says Canadian dietitian Vesanto Melina, who has written several books on the subject. and co-authored the position paper. on vegetarian diet
For the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“Everyone dies eventually,” she says. But “rather than spending their last decade going through chemotherapy and taking 19 pills a day for heart disease,” people are likely to be in better health with a plant-based diet.
Nutrition therapist Dean Ornish, who is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, conducted research decades ago that combined a low-fat, whole-foods, plant-based diet with exercise, stress management, and social support. were shown. Can reverse heart disease and open up arteries.
“When I started doing these studies, it was thought that once you had heart disease, it got worse and, at best, you could slow down the progression,” Ornish says. “We showed that once people made major changes, we could actually reverse the progress. Instead of the arteries and heart becoming more blocked, they got better.”
In recent years, doctors have helped stop or reverse Heart disease through drugs called statins to bring so-called bad cholesterol, or LDL, to extremely low levels while reducing inflammation. A strict plant-based diet is an attempt to achieve those same effects through food rather than drugs.
People have been eating meat and dairy for a long time. They are packed with protein and important nutrients like iron and calcium and vitamin B12. Why do many nutrition researchers think we can improve our health by not eating them anymore?
For starters, meat and full-fat dairy contain a lot of saturated fat that has been linked to heart disease. But it goes beyond that. Many scientists now believe that animal proteins—for reasons they don’t fully understand—are inflammatory and cause an increase in oxidative stress on the body, Ornish says.
The composition of the meat also changed over the years, becoming more fat-laden as feedlots began to grain cattle to produce marbled beef, says Christopher Gardner, a professor and nutrition researcher at Stanford. Grass-fed beef “was really different from today’s meat,” he says. In recent years, more Americans have begun to eat grass-fed beef, but it is still a small percentage of the meat consumed.
The World Health Organization classifies processed meat such as hot dogs as carcinogens And it is said that red meat also has the possibility of causing cancer.
Plant proteins, in contrast, come with protective substances like lycopene, the phytochemical found in tomatoes. a protective effect on the human body, says Melina. Plant foods are our only sources of fiber, which has been shown to help improve digestive health, ward off cholesterol, and reduce the risk of colon cancer, she says.
To be sure, not all plant foods are healthy. “It would be possible to eat a really crappy vegetarian diet,” Melina says. “Potato chips and soda pop are vegan.”
The growing scientific support for plant-based diets represents a sea change long before conventional wisdom. For most of human history, and in some parts of the world today, getting enough calories and nutrients to stay healthy was a challenge. That’s why doctors and dietitians encourage the consumption of meat and dairy products as a way to keep people well-nourished.
Now citizens of America and other industrialized countries are vulnerable to so-called additional diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and many cancers. Around the world, studies show that people who eat traditional diets with less meat have lower rates of these diseases.
If you’re interested in eating a plant-based diet, you don’t need to make the switch all at once. Yale dietitian Alisa Sherban recommends that people start by adding foods such as whole grains or legumes to their diets rather than cutting out foods. “People are much more open to adding than to removing,” she says.
As you add more plant-based foods to your diet, they will gradually cut animal products and refined carbohydrates out of your diet.
Note that many healthy plant-based diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, include limited amounts of meat and dairy. “There’s a lot of data to support a lot of variations of a plant-based diet,” says Sherban, who calls his own diet “flexitarian” and occasionally eats meat.
Some people follow a very strict vegetarian diet, eliminating all animal products from their diet. Experts say you can get all the nutrients you need from a vegetarian diet, with one big exception: vitamin B12, which maintains the sheath around nerves and is important for brain health. B12 deficiencies can take years to develop but are serious; Vegetarians should avoid taking B12 supplements.
Others worry they won’t get enough protein on a plant-based diet. Meat and milk are complete proteins, which means they contain sufficient amounts of all essential amino acids. Most plant foods are not complete proteins, and this has made some people reluctant to substitute them for animal foods.
Dietitians now say that getting enough complete protein isn’t a problem as long as you’re eating a varied diet that includes plenty of whole grains, legumes, and nuts or seeds. For example, wheat is low in the amino acid lysine, which cannot be produced by humans, while lentils are high in lysine. As long as you eat both foods, you’re fine. The same is true with rice and beans.
“It used to be that you had to do it in the same meal, and then it was on the same day,” Ornish says. “And now we know it’s actually in the same week.”
And there are some plant foods—soy being the most widely consumed—that are complete proteins. Quinoa and buckwheat are other examples.
“Stop obsessing about protein,” advises Stanford Gardner. “If you eat a varied diet, you’ll get enough protein.”
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