Health Benefits of Eating More Plant Foods and Less Meat

Health Benefits of Eating More Plant Foods and Less Meat

Patricia Marshall (Curtin University, Australia & Australian Diabetes Educators Association, Australia) and Dora Marinova (Curtin University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7350-0.ch003

Abstract

The health benefits of eating more plant-based foods and less meat are scientifically proven. This chapter examines the evidence in relation to common health and medical conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, cancers, mental health, and dementia. It also analyzes the issues related to gastrointestinal health and diet in light of the presence of fiber and other plant materials. Although the environmental benefits of a plant-based diet are well-established, there are some concerns about the ability of such food choices to supply essential nutrients to the human body, such as protein, iron, vitamin B12, and Omega 3 fatty acids. They are discussed within the framework of a healthy diet. Some of the disadvantages of diets rich on animal proteins, such as heme iron, are highlighted with a warning that the consumption of lab-grown meat may carry similar risks. A balanced plant-rich diet seems a better and easier choice.
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Reduced Risk Of Obesity, Cardiovascular Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, Weight Gain, Cancer, Autoimmune Diseases And Dementia

There is a large body of scientific evidence which shows that the risk for many of the most common threats to human health in wealthy societies can be substantially reduced by improving people’s diets. In this day and age, these threats to human health are mainly associated with non-communicable diseases (NCDs). In fact, NCDs are now responsible for 71% of all deaths globally killing 41 million people each year (WHO, 2018). The majority of these deaths (44%) are due to cardiovascular diseases, followed by different types of cancers (22%) and diabetes (4%) (WHO, 2018). Most of these health conditions, in particular obesity, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer and dementia, are partially attributed to diet.

The World Health Organization (WHO, 2014) cites evidence that reduced fruit and vegetable consumption is linked to increased risk of noncommunicable diseases. Although the exact mechanism of how this occurs is unclear, “[f]ruit and vegetable consumption may reduce the risk of NCDs through the increased availability of various nutrients and their ability to modulate associated risk factors” (WHO, 2014, n.p.).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Diet: The food consumed by a person or an organism; the word also has an implied meaning that the food consumption is with a health-related aims although ethical considerations can also affect the choice of foods to be consumed.

Legumes: A class of plants grown as a food sources for their seeds (called pulses); legumes have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root noodles and play a key role in crop rotation; they also have one of lowest carbon footprint among foods.

High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL): Good cholesterol which carries cholesterol from other parts of the body to the liver for it to be removed.

Type 2 Diabetes: A medical condition associated with the body becoming resistant to the normal effects of insulin and eventually losing the capacity to produce insulin in the pancreas; it is associated with lifestyle factors, such as obesity and lack of physical activity; it requires proper management to prevent complications and life-threatening situations.

Pathobionts: Disease causing organisms or microbes which live symbiotically in the human body and represent a risk factor for inflammation.

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD): A disease resulting in the narrowing of coronary arteries – the blood vessels supplying blood to the heart, due to the gradual building up of fatty deposits; it is a precursor to angina or heart attack.

Alzheimer’s Disease: The most common form of dementia or impairment of a person’s thinking, memory, and behavior as a result of changes in the brain; it is named after Dr Alzheimer who first recognized and described this incurable debilitating condition which initially leads to loss of enthusiasm for normal activities and then to complete dependence and eventually death.

Microbiome: The microorganisms in a particular environment, including the human body.

Protein: An organic substance – polymer chains of amino acids, considered an essential nutrient for the human body; there are 20 types of amino acids representing the building blocks for the human proteins – 11 are non-essential which can be synthesized by the human organism and 9 are essential which need to be provided by food.

Metabolite: A substance formed during metabolism or necessary for metabolism.

Metabolic Syndrome: A human health condition which combines a collection of symptoms, such as obesity, high blood pressure, high blood triglycerides, low levels of the “good” HDL cholesterol and insulin resistance, which lead to increased risk of diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.

Glycemic Index (GI): This index ranks carbohydrates depending on their effect on the glucose levels in the blood; the lower the GI, the slower the rise in blood glucose levels when this particular food is eaten; the recommendation for people with diabetes is to eat food with a lower GI.

Cardiovascular Diseases (CVD): A group of diseases affecting the heart and the blood vessels; the most common diseases within this group are stroke, infarct, coronary heart disease, and heart failure.

Heme Iron: A type of iron which is supplied to the human body by animal-based foods, such as red meat, poultry, fish and seafood; it is absorbed easier than the non-heme iron found in plants, dairy, eggs, and also red meat, poultry, fish, and seafood; the body has no mechanism to release the excess quantities of heme iron and its storage represents a risk factor for many chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, cancer, Alzheimer’s, as well as metabolic syndrome.

Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) Cholesterol: The bad cholesterol which is deposited inside the arteries causing them to narrow and increasing the risk of coronary artery disease.

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