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Considering Making the Jump to Plant-Based?

Week Two of Demystifying Diets: Achieving Balance Through the Art of Eating

Each week in August our Chiropractors and our guest Nutritionist Melanie have deciphered the research and science to help you understand different diets and ways of eating. We hope this helps you when deciding what food might be right for you. 

Vegetarianism isn’t nearly as uncommon as it once was. With more and more choosing plant based options, how is this impacting these individuals overall health? A study published in The Permanente Journal in 2016 notes that plant-based diets have gone mainstream — partly because the advantages have been well researched and healthcare practitioners recommend this way of eating as many have seen incredible results from their patients. 

Going plant based is not so much a diet as it is a general approach to eating. There’s no need to count calories or stress about meeting certain macronutrient goals each day. In essence, it’s simply about eating more plant-based foods (and fewer animal-based ones while you’re at it). People can always benefit from the health effects of increasing the proportion of plants on their plates. However, it can be good to not only look at the benefits but the downsides of a plant based diet.

What are the benefits?

Some benefits to vegetarian diets show: 

  • Lower body mass index (BMI) and reduced risk of obesity: A study in more than 200,000 people found that those who adhered to a healthy plant-based eating pattern had a 34% lower risk of developing diabetes than those who followed unhealthy, non-plant-based diets. Plus, plant-based diets have been shown to improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes.
  • Low in saturated fats and cholesterol free: vegetarian diets are typically higher in fiber. Soluble fiber has been shown to lower cholesterol levels
  • Treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease: Vegetarian diets have been shown to  reduce heart disease by up to 29%. This is due to decreased cholesterol levels, lower BMI, lower blood pressure and lower incidence of chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes.
  • Lower cancer rates: vegetarians tend to have overall lower cancer rates than non vegetarians. Numerous studies have shown the link between colorectal cancer and red meat intake. Vegetarian diets are high in fiber which is linked to 40% reduction of risk of developing colorectal cancer. 
  • Environmental benefit: Switching to a plant-based diet not only benefits your health — it can help protect the environment, as well. People who follow plant-based diets tend to have smaller environmental footprints. Adopting sustainable eating habits can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and land used for factory farming, which are all factors in global warming and environmental degradation. 
  • Dementia:  Studies have found that vegetarians are at lower risk of developing dementia potentially through higher antioxidant intake and decreased blood pressure versus non-vegetarians. 

 

What are some risks?

Among the many benefits of adopting a vegetarian diet, there may be increased risks of developing deficiencies such as: 

  • Anaemia –  Iron deficiency anaemia has been linked to not getting enough iron in the diet. Iron plays an important role in carrying out bodily functions and decreased levels result in low energy levels, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, irritability and anaemia.
  • Vitamin B12 Deficiency – Plant based diets (namely vegan diets) have been linked to low levels of vitamin B12.B12 plays a role in production of red blood cells and DNA and supports the proper functioning of your nervous system. Vitamin B-12 is commonly found in meat and animal products. Plant based foods are lacking in vitamin B12. Low levels of vitamin B12 may lead to symptoms such as, fatigue, dizziness, muscle weakness, paleness, shortness of breath and hearing difficulties.
  • Vitamin D deficiency – Vitamin D has a key role in regulating several functions throughout the body’s systems, including the growth and development of the bones and teeth. The main food sources of vitamin D include oily fish, animal products and liver. 5% of New Zealand adults are deficient in vitamin D, whilst 27% are below the recommended limits. Deficiency in vitamin D has been linked to increased risk of fracture.
  • Zinc – zinc is an important nutrient as it plays roles in wound healing, growth and development during pregnancy, protein and DNA synthesis as well as aiding the immune system. Zinc is commonly found in oysters, red meat, poultry and seafood.

 

Things to Consider

If considering switching to a plant-based diet, be sure to consider potential deficiencies and include supplementation where needed to help promote a balanced diet. It is important to gain the right vitamins and minerals that are often overlooked as mentioned above. Finding the right diet is essential, as some individuals may thrive on plant based diets, whilst others may not.

Another approach is to reduce your portion size of meat consumption, or frequency of meat consumption. Try designating a couple of meat free days in your week or choose one week a month to be plant based.

 It is advised to contact your local health care professional or nutritionist to help identify what diet will work best for you and your lifestyle. 

Vegetarian diets have been proven to  be effective for many, especially those looking to manage chronic health conditions. Plant based diets are also helpful in creating a more sustainable future with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. When considering switching to a more plant based option, it is important to consider potential nutritional gaps and use supplementation where necessary.

 

References
  1. 3 Surprising Benefits of Vitamin D. (2020). Retrieved 4 August 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/benefits-vitamin-d
  2. Collings R, Harvey LJ, Hooper L, et al. (2013). The absorption of iron from whole diets: A systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;98(1):65-81.
  3. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. (2001). doi: 10.17226/10026
  4. Huang, T., Yang, B., Zheng, J., Li, G., Wahlqvist, M. L., & Li, D. (2012). Cardiovascular disease mortality and cancer incidence in vegetarians: a meta-analysis and systematic review. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 60(4), 233-240.
  5. Key, T., Davey, G., & Appleby, P. (1999). Health benefits of a vegetarian diet. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 58(2), 271-275. doi:10.1017/S0029665199000373
  6. McMacken, M., & Shah, S. (2017). A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. Journal of geriatric cardiology : JGC, 14(5), 342–354. https://doi.org/10.11909/j.issn.1671-5411.2017.05.009
  7. Not convinced you could become vegetarian? Eating less meat is still better for farm animals, the planet and your health. (2020). Retrieved 4 August 2020, from https://www.worldanimalprotection.org.nz/news/not-convinced-you-could-become-vegetarian-eating-less-meat-still-better-farm-animals-planet-and?gclid=CjwKCAjwi_b3BRAGEiwAemPNU-mZJEpYf46LFOuFS-FUsCY43rzQ3ScxvBWABVfO4jdrn7A95UYILhoCZGAQAvD_BwE
  8. Pilis, W., Stec, K., Zych, M., & Pilis, A. (2014). Health benefits and risk associated with adopting a vegetarian diet. Roczniki Państwowego Zakładu Higieny, 65(1).
  9. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. (2009). Journal Of The American Dietetic Association, 109(7), 1266-1282. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.05.027
  10. Site designed and developed bka interactive ltd, N. (2020). Zinc | Health Navigator NZ. Retrieved 4 August 2020, from https://www.healthnavigator.org.nz/healthy-living/z/zinc/
  11. Tonstad, S., Butler, T., Yan, R., & Fraser, G. E. (2009). Type of vegetarian diet, body weight, and prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes care, 32(5), 791-796.
  12. Vitamin B12 deficiency – Southern Cross NZ. (2020). Retrieved 4 August 2020, from https://www.southerncross.co.nz/group/medical-library/vitamin-b12-deficiency
  13. Vitamin D. (2020). Retrieved 4 August 2020, from https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/healthy-living/food-activity-and-sleep/healthy-eating/vitamin-d
  14. Hever J. (2016). Plant-Based Diets: A Physician’s Guide. The Permanente journal20(3), 15–082. https://doi.org/10.7812/TPP/15-082

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