BEST HEALTH PRACTICES: Dr. Arvind Dhople Details Benefits of Plant-Based Nutrition

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March is National Nutrition Month

Plant-based is a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes; and it excludes or minimizes meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil.

BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – A plant-based diet is a diet based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruits, but with few or no animal products.

Many believe that eating a plant-based diet is healthier and better for the environment. They are generally right – but there are some exceptions.

Vegetarian Diet Not Always A Choice

In the West, being a vegetarian or vegan is usually seen as a diet choice, while in some parts of the world it is a result of simple poverty.

People in many parts of the world may be unable to get the nutrients they need from meat because it is not economically accessible, and in other cases the decision not to eat meat may have religious or cultural significance.

It is often said that India is a vegetarian country, but most of the population does in fact eat meat. There is a complex mix of socioeconomic, political, religious and cultural reasons why around a third of them do not.

Some claim that abstaining from meat originally became socially acceptable because at times in India’s past it was too scarce or too expensive for many families to afford.

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Vegetarian ‘Balance of Nutrients’ Is Key

Assuming vegetarians have access to a wide range of other foods, there is little reason to suspect that a diet without meat or fish should be less nutritious overall, although there are likely to be differences to the exact balance of nutrients.

For example, while many people complain that meat-free diets lack iron, research suggests that the risk of iron deficiency is similar across meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans, perhaps because non-meat eaters consume fruit and vegetables containing vitamin C, which helps our bodies absorb iron.

Olympic gold medal winner Carl Lewis says that his best athletic performances came after he eliminated all animal products from his diet.

Some also question whether it’s possible to be in peak physical condition without eating meat, but some reassurance may come from remembering that Carl Lewis broke the world record for the 100-meter sprint while following a vegan diet.

According to an article (Veggies Help You Beef Up) in the recent issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition analyzing the health records of nearly 3,000 people, plant-based protein benefits musculoskeletal health as equally as animal protein.

Strict Vegetarians Lack Essential Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fats, which come from animal products and are associated with higher levels of Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) or what is called “bad” cholesterol, the type that causes our arteries to get blocked up. On average, vegans also have a lower risk of heart disease due to lower blood pressure.

Considering the evidence for negative health outcomes associated with reduced omega-3 fatty acid status, it makes sense for dietitians to assist vegetarian and vegan clients in constructing diets that optimize omega-3 fatty acid status.

However, there is one particular type of fatty acid that is good for our health and is difficult to get if you are strictly vegetarian.

Omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturates – often referred to as “fish oils” – are made by algae and help to reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease, but humans get most of theirs from the oily fish that feed on these algae.

It could now be possible to engineer plants to produce these oils. Scientists at the Rothamsted Research Institute in Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, are testing a version of the cabbage family plant Camelina that has been given algal genes to enable it to produce the necessary fatty acids.

Plant-Based Diet Appears To Have Positive Environmental Consequences

Some people choose to be vegetarian for environmental reasons, as meat has a larger environmental “footprint” than plant based foods.

This is related to the greater amount of energy needed to grow fodder for livestock and the amount of harmful emissions produced. By some estimates, livestock account for 15 percent of global greenhouse emissions.

By some estimates, livestock account for 15 percent of global greenhouse emissions.

The authors of one 2015 study calculated that removing meat and fish from the diet of the average Dutch woman would reduce the environmental impact of het diet by 21 per cent and that this impact could be reduced by a further 9 per cent by adapting a healthy vegan diet.

Even eating a little bit less meat, rather than becoming completely vegetarian, would have positive environmental consequences.

However, according to a 2016 survey, many people did not believe that reducing meat consumption would have a large impact or thought that it would not be worthwhile unless there was a wider societal change.

Bottom line: There is little doubt that reducing your meat intake and embracing a plant-based diet is one of the best things you can do for your heart, your weight and overall health, and probably the environment.

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ABOVE VIDEO: This Forks Over Knives video below illustrates that you can eat delicious, healthy, satisfying, and beautiful food on a whole-food, plant-based diet.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Arvind Dhople

Dr. Arvind Dhople graduated from the University of Bombay and then joined Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, first as a post- doctoral fellow and then Asst. Professor. In 1980, he joined Florida Tech as a Professor and Director of their Infectious Diseases Lab. His specialty is microbial biochemistry and he performed research in leprosy and tuberculosis. He is a Fellow in the American Academy of Microbiology and has published nearly 150 articles in peer-reviewed journals. He has also served as an advisor to the World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, German Leprosy Relief Association, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Currently, he is Professor Emeritus at Florida Tech and a free-lance writer. 


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