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PLANT BASED DIETS: BENEFITS AND RISKS.

Updated: Aug 22

Plant-based diets, defined here as including both vegan and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets, are growing in popularity throughout the Western societies for several reasons, including concerns for human health and the health of the planet.

The increased interest in having a vegan diet is based on more awareness of climate change, the prevention of chronic diseases and more sustainability in the food production system. The problem is when a radical attitude is adopted towards a specific dietary approach, leaving aside the possible benefits and shortcomings from a scientific point of view.


Benefits of plant-based diets in modern societies.



Plant-based diets is safe and effective for all stages of the life cycle, from pregnancy and lactation, to childhood, to old age.


The first rule to follow a good eating pattern in any diet is to base food on real or minimally processed food. You have to be careful with the products that are sold in supermarkets as vegan, since most are made with sugar, vegetable oils and other types of additives.


A true vegan diet is based mostly on fruits, vegetables, legumes, root vegetables, nuts, so in this article we are going to focus on this type of food.


This type of diet has been shown to have benefits in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases, such as metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, or cardiovascular diseases, reducing body mass index, abdominal circumference, atherogenic concentrations of lipoproteins, concentrations of glucose in the blood. Our preventive medicine specialist in Dubai is waiting for you, will give you a best service. If you want it, you must visit our Maison Sante.


One of the reasons is due to its high fiber content in legumes, fruits and vegetables associated with better glycemic indices or lower insulin resistance index, important in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes, in addition to lower caloric intake, better appetite regulation, which would improve body composition and help in prevention or management of obesity.


It is important to mention bone health as well. There are studies that indicate that vegans have lower bone mineral density than omnivores, and therefore higher risk of fractures. To balance that, some strategies like strength training, sunbathing or supplementing with vit D( since this vitamin helps absorbing calcium better), would improve bone health.


Other benefits of following a vegan lifestyle would be the benefits for improving the intestinal composition of the microbiome. Gut microbiota have a major role in the fermentation of nondigestible carbohydrates, namely resistant starch, soluble/insoluble dietary fiber, including plant wall polysaccharides and oligosaccharides. Fermentation of these nondigestible carbohydrates is associated with a higher abundance of bacteria that produce butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids, which have an anti-inflammatory function, strengthen the intestinal barrier function, and improve overall gut health. Vegans would be expected to have an increased abundance of these bacteria, as their fiber-rich diets are typically high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. This fact would explain the protective role in the risk of cancer, especially in the prevention of colon cancer.


As we have seen, following a vegan pattern would have multiple benefits for our health, important is to mention the possible risks as well.


Let’s not forget that our human physiology is designed to obtain essential nutrients from animal products as well, and that could lead to health problems.


From nutritional point of view, it would be essential to pay attention to certain micronutrients in which there could be certain deficiencies, such as vit D, vit b12, zinc, iron.


Also, it could be interesting to supplement with Omega 3, since in vegans, the conversion from ALA to EPA and DHA is lower than in people who consume fish. In addition, avoiding an excess of Omega 6, for example from vegetable oils, as it could limit this conversion.


What about the protein?


it is true that animal protein has more biological availability than plant-based protein, but its intake is not strictly necessary, as long as a variety of plant-based protein-rich foods are consumed, vegan diets are able to provide all of the essential amino acids.


But, certainly, it is difficult to reach these requirements with protein from plant-based sources, so protein supplementation could be a good strategy, using pea or soybean protein, or a combination of several sources would be the most optimal.


At this point, would a healthier vegan diet be healthier than an meat-eaters diet?


Thinking that a vegan or vegetarian diet is healthier than an omnivorous diet is not supported by evidence, in fact if it not well planned nutritionally, there could be some risks.


One of the problems with the omnivorous diet is the high consumption of processed red meat, creamy cheeses, related to worse health parameters, such as glycemic index, insulin resistance, higher body mass index and body weight. At the same time, a vegan diet based on processed products could be counterproductive to health.


As backed up by many studies a Mediterranean diet that includes limited high quality unprocessed animal protein is very beneficial for health and longevity.


Conclusion


In short, all dietary approaches could have deficiencies if they are not well planned. In people following a plant-based diets, especially vegan diets, intake, and status of certain nutrients is lower compared to meat-containing diets, with an increased risk of inadequacy for vitamin B12, vitamin D, EPA, DHA, calcium, iron (particularly in women), zinc and iodine. Of these nutrients, also meat-eaters are at risk of inadequate vitamin D and calcium intake. On the other hand, people following plant-based diets, particularly vegan diets, have higher intakes of DHA, ALA, fiber, folate, vitamin E and magnesium, which are found to be at risk of deficiency among meat-eaters.


There is a need from healthcare professionals and public health to implement strategies and information to help the consumers transitioning to a more nutritionally balanced and sustainable diet by education on diverse nutrient-dense plant foods, food fortification and possibly supplementation. Visit wellness & health clinics in Dubai for the best advice on health.


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