Do you have a question you’ve been dying to ask, but didn’t know who to turn to? Well, now you do. The National Women’s Health Network has established a biweekly Q & A column where you can ask questions on a variety of topics. Those topics include contraception, abortion, sexual health, menopause & menopause hormone therapy, osteoporosis, obesity, and some aspects of heart disease. Each week we will feature a new question. See this week’s question below.

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To view past questions, check out our Since You Asked Archives.

What we are able to provide:

  • A feminist perspective on current issues in women’s health
  • Evidence-based research on the risks and benefits of certain drugs and procedures
  • Information on available treatment options

What we are not able to provide:

  • Medical advice
  • Physician referrals
  • Financial assistance in paying for health care
  • Information on general health topics

Please note: Questions submitted will not be answered personally, and not all questions submitted will be answered. If your question is selected, you will be notified via email. Before you submit your question, search our website to see if you find the answer to your question. Your answer might be found in a fact sheet, newsletter article or on one of our advocacy pages. NWHN can provide you with accessible and accurate health information; however, we are not medically licensed professionals and thus cannot provide medical diagnostic or treatment advice.

Biweekly Column: What is the relationship between plant-based dieting and disease prevention?

In recent years, plant-based, vegan and vegetarian diets have grown in popularity. Celebrities such as Beyonce and Ariana Grande have praised their trendy plant-based diets on social media. But beyond public perceptions of the diets, there are some real health benefits associated with eating plant-based foods, especially for women. However, there are also a few dangers to be aware of, too. 

What is a plant-based diet? A plant-based diet is based primarily or exclusively on whole foods and plants, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts. 

What are the benefits? Plant-based diets are associated with lowering the risk of heart disease. This is because plant-based diets reduce high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease by as much as 46%. Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization, approximately one-third of cancers can be prevented by factors in your control, including diet. Those who adhere to vegetarian and vegan diets are at lower risk for cancer compared to those who eat meat. There is also evidence that specific types of vegetarian diets are linked to the prevention of different types of cancer. Female-specific cancers include cancers of the breast, vulva, vagina, cervix, endometrial lining, uterus, and ovaries. Properly managed vegan diets are associated with the prevention of some female-specific cancers

We want to emphasize that while there is evidence that plant based dieting is linked to decreased cancer risk, by no means does this imply that diet reduces cancer risk to zero. It is still highly recommended that regardless of diet habits, individuals follow all standard recommendations for cancer screenings. 

What are the risks? If not done properly, plant-exclusive diets can be linked with health issues related to nutrient deficiencies. The data surrounding the benefits of a plant-based diet emphasizes fresh, whole ingredients and minimizing processed foods in addition to increasing plant products. Without proper planning and education around foods, plant-based diets may pose the following health concerns:

  • Low protein intake
  • Iron deficiency
  • Decreased bone mineralization and increased risk of fractures from lower intake of calcium and vitamin D
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  •  Lower essential fatty acid intake

Ultimately,  embracing a full plant-based diet may not be the best fit for everyone.  Making moderate changes to your diet, such as lowering your animal food intake by one to two servings per day and replacing it with legumes or nuts as your protein source, can have a lasting positive impact on your health,  We encourage our readers to speak with their health providers to explore the best possible option for them.


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