Well-balanced plant-based diets that include a wide variety of foods from plants have been shown to offer numerous health benefits. Studies have found that plant-based diets can improve several modifiable heart disease risk factors, including abdominal obesity, blood pressure, serum lipids and blood glucose. As a result, plant-based eating patterns have been associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and diabetes, as well as obesity and certain types of cancer.(1,2)
Low intake of saturated fat and high intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds — all of which are rich in fibre and phytonutrients — are characteristics of plant-based eating patterns thought to be responsible for these potential health benefits.(2) Other specific compounds inherent to plant foods may also have independent health benefits.
It’s likely that the benefits of plant-based eating patterns are not solely due to the absence of meat, but also to the inclusion of a wide variety of nutritious plant foods.
One study has analysed the co-benefits of different types of eating patterns on both health and climate change. It found that transitioning toward more plant-based diets that are in line with standard dietary guidelines could reduce global mortality by 6–10% by 2050, compared to a reference scenario (and based on projections from the FAO). More than half of avoided deaths (51–57%) were due to decreased red meat consumption, 24–35% to increased fruit and vegetable consumption, and 19–30% to a lower prevalence of being overweight or obese associated with limiting excessive energy intake. More specifically, adopting a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet reduced the combined number of deaths per year from coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes in 2050 by 17%, and a vegan diet reduced these deaths by 19%.(3)
1. McEvoy CT, et al (2012) Vegetarian diets, low-meat diets and health: a review. Public Health Nutr;15(12):2287-94.
2. Melina V, et al (2016) Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets; Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics;116(12):1970 - 1980
3. Springmann, M, et al (2016) Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change. PNAS; 113 (15): 4146-4151