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Niki Bezzant: More power for the plant people



"Vegetable" is currently a real buzzword in nutrition. #plantbased gets more than 15 million posts on Instagram.

Plants are popular, at least in the social media world.

It is also a term that often appears in health research. A recent headline struck me: "A third of premature deaths could be avoided if we cut out all meat," Harvard study finds.

That's a dramatic claim. But is it true? And what does plant-based mean anyway?

It seems that there is no official definition; despite the impression we can get from Instagram and headlines. Vegetarians and vegans have claimed this term, which means that many of us believe that plant foods are nothing more than quinoa shells and nutmeg.

But others ̵

1; including the Harvard professor, to whom the recent claims about premature deaths are attributed – use a literal translation. For them, plant-based means just that: a varied, plant-based diet.

The Harvard study was not new research. Rather, it was the quoted comments of Professor Walter Willett, an epidemiologist at the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University.

He spoke at a public health meeting where he did not really say that we would all be better off giving up meat. He said, "We've just done some calculations to examine the question of how much we could reduce mortality by switching to a healthy, more plant-based diet that is not necessarily completely vegan, and our estimates are about a third

Willett's calculations were based, as he later said, on several studies in which he was involved, as well as on a considerable amount of evidence. The general conclusion of this evidence is that more plant food is generally beneficial.

As humans, we tend to demand more details. "Yes, but which diet should I follow?" we could legitimately ask.

A 2014 report published in the Annual Review of Public Health titled "Can We Say Which Diet Is Best For Health?" tries to answer this question seriously.

The researchers studied seven popular diets, including low-carb; vegetarian / vegan; Paleo and Mediterranean diets. They concluded the answer to the question of the title no: there is not a single diet that comes out as "best".

But they also concluded that all of the diets surveyed contained good and healthy elements, and that things in common pointed to a healthy dietary pattern that, it is said, can lead to better health and a longer life.

These common elements were: limited refined starches, added sugars and processed foods, limited intake of certain fats, and an emphasis on whole plant foods, with or without lean meats, poultry, fish and seafood.

There is a wealth of evidence that researchers said that this pattern of eating (note the term pattern, not "diet") in the sense of a restrictive diet) is beneficial to one's health.

To eat mainly plants, we may need to rethink how we put our meals together. Many of us have a habit of building our meals on a protein, often meat, adding vegetables and starch. It can be useful to turn this thinking around.

Meat is not forbidden, but think of it as a side dish, not as a main event. This almost guarantees that you will eat more plants and less animal products.

It is important to note that no matter what variation of the "herbal" diet you choose – vegetarian, vegan or animal products – the quality of what you eat makes a big difference.

It is quite possible, experts say, to eat a very unhealthy vegetarian or vegan diet just as it is possible to be an unhealthy meat eater.

Niki Bezzant is an editor at Healthy Food Guide.


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