Swapping animal-based foods with plant-based alternatives such as nuts and legumes can significantly reduce the risk of developing health issues such as type 2 diabetes or heart disease, a systematic review in the BMC Medicine journal found.
The report, published on November 16, analysed 37 earlier studies which also found the impact of more plant-based food in our diet.
Sabrina Schlesinger, head of the systematic reviews research group at the German Diabetes Center in Düsseldorf, was the paper’s senior author and collaborated with researchers from several German institutions. Schlesinger told CNN that this review is the first systematic review to focus on the health outcomes that are associated with swapping out animal-based food for plant-based food.
Why Make The Switch?
The BMC Medicine review observed that the chances of heart disease can be reduced by 27% upon swapping red meat with plant-based supplements. That is, by swapping 50 grams of processed meat with 28 to 50 grams of nuts per day. Similarly, a 23% reduction in risks was seen when the meat was swapped with the same amount of legumes.
The incidence of type 2 diabetes was also reduced by 22% when 50 grams of processed meat per day was swapped with 10 to 28 grams of nuts per day. Replacing butter with olive oil, and eggs with nuts, also indicated a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease, the review found.
However, the review clarified that no specific association of heart risk was found by replacing other dairy products, fish, seafood or poultry.
Processed meat, is defined by the World Health Organization as having undergone salting, curing, fermenting, smoking and contains saturated fatty acids, which potentially increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Meanwhile, nuts, legumes and whole grains contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that seem to reduce inflammation.
A Cumulative Review of Existing Research
Similar studies from the past also noted the beneficial impact of inculcating plant-based food in our diet. A Danish study from May this year found that total cholesterol declined 7% for people following a plant-based diet when compared with those who eat both meat and plants. Another study from August 2019 suggested that eating more plants and less meat was reducing cardiovascular disease.
The findings in the BMC Medicine review “do not rely on the results of a single study but systematically summarise all available evidence on the topic,” Sabrina Schlesinger told CNN, adding this was the main strength of the review. The consistency of results from previous studies indicates “a robust level of confidence in the effect estimate,” she added.
How To Make The Switch?
Swapping animal-based products to plant-based products is not as simple as it sounds. Registered dietician Duane Mellor, a senior teaching fellow at the Aston Medical School in Birmingham, UK, told CNN, “We need to be cautious about words like plant-based, which can be used by food manufacturers… After all, a bag of sugar is plant-based, and it’s (the study is) not meaning that.”
Anyone considering becoming a vegetarian or vegan should also be sure their diet is carefully planned to include enough iron, iodine, vitamin B12 and vitamin D, Mellor told CNN in May.
Mellor also noted that geographical climate and cultural staple foods are important to consider before making a switch. He added, “Just because the statistics say ‘a swap reduces risk’, does it make culinary and cultural sense? If it doesn’t, it is not likely to work as advice,” he said.
Suggested Reading: A Nutritionist's Guide To Plant-Based Protein