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Plant Based Diets

By Lawrence Tredrea Naturopath & Nutritionist.

So being a lover of food and a nutritionist how could I not talk about healthy diets!

The Australian Bureau of Statistics states that a balanced diet, including sufficient fruit and vegetables, reduces a person’s risk of developing conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. The 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend a minimum number of serves of fruit and vegetables each day to ensure good nutrition and health.

In 2014-15 a nation survey was conducted, it was found that 49.8% of Australian adults met the guidelines for recommended daily serves of fruit (2 or more serves), while 7.0% met the guidelines for serves of vegetables. Only one in twenty (5.1%) adults met both guidelines. These rates were similar to 2011-12 (48.5%, 6.1% and 4.2% respectively). Wow, this means 94.9% of adults in Australia do not eat their daily servings of fruits AND vegetables. This is where we get vital nutrients from to support our bodily functions. So why not swap a high calorie, low nutrient dense snack for something plant based.

What does the World Health Organisation say is an unhealthy diet? They state that “An unhealthy diet is one of the major risk factors for a range of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and other conditions linked to obesity. Specific recommendations for a healthy diet include: eating more fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and grains; cutting down on salt, sugar and fats. It is also advisable to choose unsaturated fats, instead of saturated fats and towards the elimination of trans-fatty acids.”

Havard University is one of the best learning institutes in the world... so surely they know a thing or two about what you should be eating? You’re right, they do. Nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health and editors at Harvard Health Publications created something similar to the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, but Havards is called ‘The Healthy Eating Plate’ and was created to help people make the best eating choices. Three quarters of the plate is all plants (fruits, vegetables and grains), and if you choose to get your protein from plants, then it would be entirely fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. However the take home message is to eat a large variety of quality, foods and decreased refined/ ultra-processed foods (including processed meats). They promote the avoidance of trans fats and sugary beverages. Staying hydrated is also important.

So can diet help your blood pressure (BP)? Well according to a journal released in 2013, by the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they came to the conclusion it was valid to promote diet and lifestyle changes to decrease BP. These interventions were 1. Be in a healthy weight range (which can be achieved with diet and lifestyle), 2. Eat a diet called the DASH diet, 3. Lower salt intake, 4. Regular exercise, 5. Moderate alcohol consumption. So 4 of these 5 interventions involved diet in some way. The DASH diet emphasises high fruit and vegetable consumption, nuts, whole grains, lean meats and low fat dairy. Because of its emphasis on a low intake of processed foods, this indirectly addresses the high salt factor. However what about a vegetarian diet? This is pretty close to what the DASH diet is, minus the meat. A 2014 meta-analysis found that a vegetarian diet is associated with lower BP and may be an intervention for the management of high BP. So again, plant based takes the vegetarian cake.

So all in all, a plant based diet that is low in refined and ultra-processed foods, low in processed animal flesh and animal bi-products and low in poor quality fats is shown over and over again to have great health benefits. Do the best you can, enjoy eating, don’t feel guilty and if you eat something naughty accept it, enjoy it and get back on that horse. This is about a lifestyle change and not about a 1 week fad for quick weight-loss of health gains.

References

http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.001~2014-15~Main%20Features~Daily%20intake%20of%20fruit%20and%20vegetables~28

http://www.who.int/topics/diet/en/

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/

Go, A et al. 2014, ‘An Effective Approach to High Blood Pressure Control A Science Advisory From the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’, J Am Coll Cardiol., vol. 62, no. 12, pp. 1230-8

Yokoyama, Y, Takegami, M & Okamura, T 2014, ‘Vegetarian Diets and Blood Pressure: A meta-analysis’, Jama Intern Med, vol. 174, no. 4, pp. 577-587

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