A vegetarian or vegan diet may not embody other important characteristics of a
healthy diet. For example, they may not be low sodium, low in added sugars, low in
highly processed carbohydrates such as white flour, or high in whole, unprocessed
plant-based foods. Evidence that plant-based diets can vary considerably in their
implications for health comes from a 2017 study in the Journal of the American
College of Cardiology. The 20-year study examined the association between
diet and coronary heart disease (CHD) among more than 200,000 adults. The researchers
compared CHD risk with how closely diets fit into three categories of plant-based diets:
1)An overall plant-based diet. The study assessed the level of consumption of all plant foods compared to intake
of all animal foods and foods that contain animal products. The study found that
the greatest relative increase in consumption of all plant foods was associated with
up to an 8% decrease in CHD.
2) A healthful plant-based diet. The study assessed the level of consumption of healthy plant foods, such as whole
grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, healthy oils, tea and coffee, while reducing
intake of less healthy plant foods as well as animal foods. The study found that the
greatest relative increase in consumption of healthy plant foods was associated with
up to a 25% decrease in CHD.
3) An unhealthful plant-based diet. The study assessed the level of consumption of less healthy plant foods, such as
fruit juices, refined grains (pasta, white rice, and processed breads, rolls and cereals),
potatoes (French fries and potato chips), sweets, desserts, and sugar-sweetened
beverages, while reducing the relative intake of healthy plant foods as well as animal
foods. The study found that the greatest increase in consumption of unhealthy
plant foods was associated with up to a 32% increase in CHD.
An implication of this study is that less healthy plant foods and animal foods are
both associated with increased CHD risk, with, at least in this study, a greater risk
for less healthy plant foods. The study authors concluded “This highlights the wide
variation in nutritional quality of plant foods, making it crucial to consider the quality
of plant foods consumed in plant-rich diets.”
Although vegetarian, vegan, and traditional Asian diets are often low-fat, they may
not be if large amounts of oils and fats are used in food preparation or if they are
consumed with condiments and sauces that are high in fat. And most important:
only animal foods like meat and dairy provide vitamin B-12, so people on vegan
diets need to consume fortified foods or vitamin supplements.
This blog presents opinions and ideas and is intended to provide helpful general information. I am not engaged in rendering advice or services to the individual reader. The ideas, procedures and suggestions in that are presented are not in any way a substitute for the advice and care of the reader’s own physician or other medical professional based on the reader’s own individual conditions, symptoms or concerns. If the reader needs personal medical, health, dietary, exercise or other assistance or advice the reader should consult a physician and/or other qualified health professionals. The author specifically disclaims all responsibility for any injury, damage or loss that the reader may incur as a direct or indirect consequence of following any directions or suggestions given in this blog or participating in any programs described in this blog or in the book, The Building Blocks of Health––How to Optimize Your Health with a Lifestyle Checklist (available in print or downloaded at Amazon, Apple, and elsewhere). Copyright 2021 by J. Joseph Speidel.