Health Studies

Leafy Greens Can Keep Your Brain Young

It is no secret that green vegetables are some of the healthiest foods for our bodies, but new research shows that they are also good for our brains. Researchers in Chicago and Boston analyzed the eating patterns and cognitive abilities of over 950 older adults for an average of five years. The scientists found a significant decrease in the rate of cognitive decline for people who ate more green leafy vegetables (like spinach, kale, collards, and mustard greens). In fact, people who ate just one to two servings of leafy greens per day had the cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger than those who ate none.

Presentation at the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) Annual Meeting during Experimental Biology. Boston MA. March 30, 2015.

Plant-Based Diets May Reduce Colorectal Cancer Risk

Colorectal cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality, so learning more about dietary prevention is an important area of research. Scientists at Loma Linda University in California analyzed food patterns and health data from over 77,000 adults for an average of 7 years. After controlling for demographic and lifestyle factors (including age, smoking, physical activity, and family history), the researchers found that those who ate vegetarian diets had an approximately 20% lower risk of colorectal cancer compared with nonvegetarians. Researchers also found that pesco-vegetarians in particular (vegetarians who eat fish) had a much lower risk of colorectal cancer. These results support other studies linking the Mediterranean diet (a plant-based diet that features fish) with a decreased risk for colorectal cancer.
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015 March 9. [Epub ahead of print] (Orlich MJ et al.)

Plant-based Diets Improve Heart Disease Markers in Overweight Kids

Plant-based diets have proven effective at reducing heart disease markers in adults, but with a large proportion of overweight and obese children, experts wonder if dietary interventions are effective on kids as well. In a small study in the Midwestern US, twenty-eight overweight and obese children (average age = 15) and their parents were assigned to either a plant-based vegan (no animal products at all), no-added fat diet (with only moderate avocado and nuts) or an American Heart Association diet (high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but also includes low fat dairy, some plant oils, lean meat and fish, and permits some refined grains) for four weeks. The plant-based group significantly improved nine different risk factors of heart disease (including improved blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight), while the American Heart Association Diet significantly improved four risk factors.
The Journal of Pediatrics. 2015 Feb 11. [Epub ahead of print] (Macknin M et al.)

Short Term Benefits of Plant-Based Diets on Nutrient Intake and Inflammation

In a study of 63 overweight and obese adults instructed on various diets, South Carolina researchers examined the differences in nutrient intake and Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII). After two months, those assigned to vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian diets had significantly lower DII scores and greater improvements in fiber, carbohydrate, fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. However, after six months, no differences were seen among the diets. Due to these short-term benefits, the researchers concluded that greater consideration should be given to “finding ways to provide support for adoption and maintenance of plant-based dietary approaches.”
Nutrition Research. 2014 Dec 3. Pii:S0271-5317(14)00267-X. (Turner-McGrievy GM et al.)

Vegetarian Diet Helps Diabetics Control Blood Sugar

Think a meat-centric diet is the best way to keep your blood sugar in check? Think again! Researchers in the United States and Japan reviewed studies that investigated the relationship between vegetarian diets and blood sugar control in people with type two diabetes. Analyzing data from the 255 adults included in the studies, scientists reported that a plant-based vegetarian diet helps adults with type 2 diabetes improve glycemic control, lower cholesterol intake by 173mg, and trim about 140 calories from their diets each day.  
Cardiovascular Diagnosis and Therapy. 2014 Oct;4(5):373-382. (Yokoyama et al.)

Vegetarian Diets Have Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Lower Mortality Rate

Science is showing that plant-based diets can benefit people and the planet. Researchers at Loma Linda University in California analyzed both greenhouse gas emissions and mortality rates for over 70,000 participants from a large prospective cohort study (Adventist Health Study 2). The scientists found that the food choices of semivegetarians (eating meat more than once a month but less than once a week) and vegetarians were linked to 22% and 29% lower greenhouse gas emissions respectively than nonvegetarian diets. Additionally, the mortality rate for semivegetarians and vegetarians was 20% lower than the mortality rate of nonvegetarians.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2014 June 4;100(Supplement 1):490S-495S. [Epub ahead of print] (Soret S et al.)

Vegetarian Diets May Lower Blood Pressure

Researchers in Japan and the United States reviewed data from over 21,000 people to investigate the association between vegetarian diets and blood pressure. After analyzing 32 observational studies and 7 controlled trials published between 1900 and 2013, the scientists found that eating a vegetarian diet is associated with a significant reduction in both systolic (4.8-6.9 mm Hg decrease) and diastolic (2.2-4.7 mm Hg decrease) blood pressure compared with diets that include meat.
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2014 April; 174(4):577-587 (Yokoyama Y et al.)

Plant-based Diet Declared the Healthiest

Because traditional nutrient analyses can’t account for the complex interactions between food and nutrients, scientists have begun using more holistic dietary pattern analyses to assess overall diet quality. In this study, researchers analyzed the self-reported eating patterns of 1475 adults in Belgium against both the Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010, a measure of how well a diet conforms to the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines) and the Mediterranean Diet Score (MDS, a measure of how well a diet conforms to the Mediterranean diet). In both measurements, participants with vegan diets (diets that exclude all animal products, including meat, fish, dairy, and eggs) came out with the highest score. Additionally, the vegan diets were found to have the best fat profile, the most fiber, the lowest calories, the most fruits and vegetables, and the lowest sodium. These findings are significant, because researchers point out that “high scores in both indexing systems (HEI-2010 and MDS) are related with positive health outcomes.”
Nutrients. March 2014;6(3):1318-1332.

Nuts Associated with Lower Mortality Rate

Researchers examined the eating patterns of more than 76,000 women and more than 42,000 men over 24 to 30 years to assess the health effects of eating nuts. They discovered that eating nuts is associated with a reduced risk of mortality overall and specifically from cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease. As nut consumption increased (from none at all, to weekly, to daily), the incidences of mortality also decreased. Researchers noted that all types of nuts appear to have the same health benefit and did not see a difference between individual types, including peanuts and tree nuts.

The New England Journal of Medicine. 2013 November 21; 369:2001-2011 (Bao, et al.)

Nutrient Profiles of Vegans Point to Lowest BMI

When researchers at Loma Linda University conducted a cross-sectional study of 71,715 subjects from the Adventist Health Study 2 to compare nutrient intakes between dietary patterns characterized by consumption or exclusion of meat and dairy products, they found a clear connection between diet type and weight among five groups: meat-eaters, semi-vegetarians, pescatarians, lacto-ovo vegetarians, and vegans.  Vegans were found to have the lowest average BMI, while meat-eaters showed the highest, along with the highest intake of heart-disease related fatty acids. Vegans also had the lowest occurrence of obesity (9%) compared to 33.3% of meat-eaters. The average age of study participants was 59.
Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. August 2013. (Rizzo, Jaceldo-Sigl, Sabate, Fraser.)
 

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