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Vegetarian Diet Series: Science-Backed Health Benefits Of Vegetarian Diet.

4 min read

Once upon a time, they did a 20 year long extensive and intensive study on people in China and found out that (amongst numerous other things) that people who avoided eating meats and animal products and ate predominantly grains, fruits, and vegetables tend to enjoy longer and healthier life!

Boom! The world went gaga and almost half of Australia turned Vegan overnight!

Well, the China Study, based on the China-Cornell-Oxford project has been upheld by some and denounced by others. It was a huge project that aimed to observe the interplay between diet, lifestyle, and diseases. But it was not without some drawbacks and overreaching conclusions.

 

Nonetheless, what this study did was, it brought Vegetarian Diet and It’s probable health benefits back in limelight. So here are Top 5 proven benefits of Vegetarian Diet.

 

1. Improved Cholesterol levels

Now it is no new news that plant-based diet is devoided of cholesterol (because only animals produce cholesterol, plants can not!). Perhaps its lack of cholesterol or perhaps because it’s rich dietary fiber content, plant-based diets are associated with lowering LDL and VLDL cholesterols. Cholesterol-lowering role of a diet that lacks animal products and especially meat is well documented. [1, 2]

Suggested Read,

5 things that will NOT increase your cholesterol levels!

 

2. Heart Health

Apart from being cholesterol-lowering, plant-based diets are also known to be beneficial in managing hypertension and triglycerides lowering. Non-meat eaters, especially vegans can reap the benefits of lowered hypertension[3]. Vegetarians eat significantly more dietary fiber, polyunsaturated fatty acids, magnesium, potassion and significantly less total fat [4]. Their Omega 3 Fatty Acid intake, antioxidant intake, and MUFA (Mono Unsaturated Fatty Acids) intake are also significantly higher which is associated with a significantly lower risk of coronary artery disease and stroke [5]. Higher fruit, vegetables, and bean intake is associated with fewer incidents of Cardio Vascular Diseases [6]

 

 

3.Longevity

Yes, you read correctly. Consuming a predominantly vegetarian food can increase not just your lifespan but also the quality of life altogether.  Why I say predominantly vegetarian is because the studies involved look at the association of very low meat intake and mixed diets with the lifespan. This one study finds that vegetarian status results in 1.5-1.5 years gain in life expectancy compared with non-vegetarian diet [7]. And this other review of 6 studies shows that a lifestyle pattern that includes a very low meat intake is associated with greater longevity [8].

Again this increase in lifespan is associated with substitution of meats with veggies, fruits and nuts, and not highly processed or fried foods/fast foods! So be mindful what you substitute your meats with.

Substituting a chicken kebab with kachchi dabeli will do you no good!!

 

4. Obesity

There is a plenty of research data showing that vegetarians tend to have a lower BMI (Body Mass Index) than their non-vegetarian counterparts. Data shows that vegetarians are leaner than omnivores [9]. Within omnivores, fish eaters tend to be leaner than meat eaters, and withing vegetarians vegans tend to be leaner than the rest of the group [10, 11].

I feel little uncertain while translating this research to Indian audiences. See most of these studies were done overseas (mainly in US and UK). Their definition of meat eaters or vegetarians are a world different than ours. A meat eater over there usually eats around 2-3 ounce of meat with at least 2 meals a day (remember I am saying at least!), and a meat eater in India would typically eat few pieces of non-veg once/twice or a maximum of three times a week. There is a huge difference here!

Same way Vegetarians over there tend to be vegetarians by choice, thus these people tend to be more conscious about their food and lifestyle choices. Whereas here in India I have seen loads of vegetarian people literally sitting on pavements during late nights and devouring fast food like their life depends on it! That is just not right!

Whenever weight is concerned, remember, your food choices (minimally processed, whole foods) and portion sizes matter a lot more than any vegetarian or non-vegetarian tag!

 

5. Cancer Prevention

If you have watched the second documentary “what the food!” by the creator of “cowspiracy” you would fall in 3 categories 1) someone who believed everything that is shown there 2)skeptics and 3)non-believers!. I fall in the second category, and so a majority of the people do. So I decided to find out for myself whether there really is any merit to the claim that the Vegetarian diet is better for cancer prevention and that meat consumption is associated with Cancers. Here is what I found

a. Consumption of Red Meats and Saturated animal fats are positively associated with higher incidences of prostate cancer [12].

b. consumption of processed meats is associated with breast cancer [13].

c. increased consumption of processed and unprocessed red meat is associated with an increased risk of type II Diabetes [14].

d. higher consumption of red meat and processed meats are associated with an increased risk of cancer mortality [15].

e. increased fruits and vegetable intake is associated with reduced risk of esophagus, lung, stomach, and colorectal cancer [16].

The evidence highly asserts increased incidences of all-cause cancer mortality with consumption of meats especially processed meats and a protective effect of fruits and vegetable intake. Although all this evidence is against meat consumption, very little evidence is present that actually shows the direct correlation between a vegetarian diet and reduced cancer risk.

 

All and all, a well balanced vegetarian diet that includes whole and minimally processed foods is undoubtedly good for the health. Those were our top five proven benefits of a Vegetarian Diet. For more specific or personal dietary recommendations, consult a dietitian @DawaiBox.

 

 

 

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