Scientists from Johns Hopkins found that eating unhealthy plant-based diets is linked to a higher risk of metabolic syndrome.
A metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that together raise your risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other serious health problems.
Metabolic syndrome is also called insulin resistance syndrome.
Previous studies have found that plant-based diets are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, but risks differed by the quality of plant-based diets.
In the current study, researchers aimed to examine the associations between different types of plant-based diets and metabolic syndrome.
They used data from a community-based study of 5,646 men and women living in Ansan and Ansung, South Korea (2001-2016) without metabolic syndrome and related chronic diseases.
These people’s dietary intake was assessed using a food questionnaire.
Using the responses in the questionnaire, the team calculated 4 plant-based diet indices (overall plant-based diet index [PDI], healthful plant-based diet index [hPDI], unhealthful plant-based diet index [uPDI], and pro-vegetarian diet index).
Higher PDI scores represented greater consumption of all types of plant foods regardless of healthiness.
Higher hPDI score represented greater consumption of healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, tea, and coffee) and lower consumption of less-healthy plant foods (refined grains, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets, salty foods).
Higher uPDI represented lower consumption of healthy plant foods and greater consumption of less-healthy plant foods.
Similar to PDI, a higher pro-vegetarian diet score represented greater consumption of plant foods but included only selected plant foods (grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, potatoes).
Higher scores in all plant-based diet indices represented lower consumption of animal foods (animal fat, dairy, eggs, fish/seafood, meat).
The team found that over a follow-up of 8 years, 2,583 people developed metabolic syndrome.
People with the highest versus lowest uPDI scores had a 50% higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
When the team further adjusted for body mass index (BMI), those with the highest uPDI had 24%-46% higher risk of 4 out of 5 individual components of metabolic syndrome (belly obesity, hypertriglyceridemia, low high-density lipoprotein [HDL], and increased blood pressure).
In addition, greater adherence to PDI was linked to a lower risk of high blood sugar.
No consistent associations were found for other plant-based diet indices and metabolic syndrome.
The team concludes that greater adherence to diets consisting of a high intake of refined carbohydrates, sugars, and salty foods in the framework of plant-based diets is linked to a higher risk of metabolic syndrome.
These results suggest that considering the quality of plant foods is important for the prevention of metabolic syndrome in people that regularly eat plant foods.
The research was published in PLOS Medicine and conducted by Hyunju Kim et al.
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