Plant-based diets may benefit long-term health, study finds

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Scientists from the University of Oxford found that plant-based diets may benefit long-term health.

The concept of plant-based diets has become popular due to their benefits for both human health and environmental impact.

‘Plant-based’ is sometimes used to indicate omnivorous diets with a relatively small component of animal foods.

But in this review, researchers took it to mean either vegetarian (plant-based plus dairy products and/or eggs) or vegan (100% plant-based).

Plant-based diets have some important characteristics, which would be expected to be beneficial for long-term health.

These include low intakes of saturated fat and high intakes of dietary fiber.

But these diets are also linked to the risk of low intakes of some micronutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, and iodine, particularly in vegan diets.

Previous studies have found that vegetarians and vegans typically have lower BMI, lower LDL cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol), and lower blood pressure than regular meat-eaters. But they also have lower bone mineral density.

For example, vegetarians in the EPIC-Oxford study were found to have a relatively low risk of heart disease, diabetes, colon disease, kidney stones, cataracts, and possibly some cancers.

But they also had higher risks of stroke (principally haemorrhagic stroke) and bone fractures, in comparison with meat-eaters.

The study showed that vegans had a lower risk of diabetes, colon disease, and cataracts and a higher risk of fractures, but there are insufficient data for other health conditions to draw conclusions.

The current review suggests that overall, the health of people following plant-based diets appears to be generally good, with advantages but also some risks.

These risks may be reduced by better food choices, fortification, and supplementation. Future research needs to test this.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society and conducted by Timothy J Key et al.

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