What is the relationship between plant-based dieting and disease prevention?
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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Evita Almassi, MSW, served as the Communications and Digital Marketing Manager for the NWHN. Her 10+ years in nonprofit communications – especially with social media advocacy campaigns – enabled the NWHN to reach and empower more women in their health education and advocacy journeys.
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