Some vegetarians like to boast about their supposed superiority over us carnivores by quoting stats that show meat production is helping to increase climate change, and that vegetarians usually weigh less and have healthier cardiovascular systems.
And while those things may be true, a recent study has found that plant-eaters aren’t always the healthier bunch, depending on what kinds of plants they consume.
The research, which appeared in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, recognized that in earlier studies using the term “plant-based” meant that all plant foods were weighted the same. So bread would be equal to broccoli, when we know that the nutrition density in the two is very different. The new study, however, used three different plant-based diets: one with all plant foods and reduced meat intake; another with healthy plant food choices emphasized like whole grains, fruits, and veggies; then a "cheater" diet that was more focused on starchy stuff like potatoes and refined grains like those in sweets and packaged foods.
The researchers then pulled data on more than 150,000 participants from multiple large-scale studies that followed them for over 20 years, and compared diets and health outcomes. Those who enjoyed the healthy veggie diet had a much lower risk of heart disease, but those on the "cheaters" vegetarian diet had similar risk of cardiovascular problems as those more focused on eating meat.
"When we examined the associations of the three food categories with heart disease risk, we found that healthy plant foods were associated with lower risk, whereas less healthy plant foods and animal foods were associated with higher risk," said study lead Ambika Satija, Sc.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "It's apparent that there is a wide variation in the nutritional quality of plant foods, making it crucial to take into consideration the quality of foods in a plant-based diet."
To make sure you're getting a real, healthy veggie diet, check out these healthy and delicious vegan recipes, and add them to your repertoire. You’ll lower your risk of heart disease and probably drop a few pounds, all while saving the plant. Nice one.