Health Studies

Plant Based Diets Can Better Feed a Growing Population, without Deforestation

Forests are an important harbor of biodiversity and carbon storage, so cutting into forests to create more cropland could be very harmful to the ecosystem. To see how we can feed a growing world without cutting into forests, Austrian researchers analyzed 500 different scenarios with varying levels of cropland expansion, dietary patterns, and crop yields.  They found that “a large range of options exist to feed a no-deforestation world,” by 2050, but greatly varied based on what types of foods we’d choose to eat. For example, their models found that if the current North American diet (lots of meat and highly processed foods) continues to expand globally, only 15% of the scenarios involving this eating pattern are feasible. However, “all vegan scenarios and 94% of the vegetarian scenarios are feasible,” indicating the overall sustainability of plant based diets.
Nature Communication. 2016 Apr 19;7:11382. (Erb KH et al.)

Pulses May Help Aid Weight Loss

Dietary changes are a key target in obesity prevention programs, so many foods are being studied for their affect on body weight. To see if eating more pulses (the food group that includes beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas) might help reduce obesity, researchers analyzed 21 randomized control trials looking at pulses’ role in weight, body fat, and waist circumference in overweight and obese adults. Diets that included dietary pulses did not significantly reduce waist circumference. There was a trend in reduction of body fat (-0.34%), but it was not significant as well. Overall, the researchers found that those eating about 1 serving of pulses per day lost, on average, about 0.75 pounds over six weeks. Not surprisingly, results were stronger in weight loss diets (3.8 pounds over 6 weeks) than weight maintenance diets (0.6 pounds over 6 weeks). Although the weight loss was small, this study indicates that a modest serving of pulses may help produce weight loss, even without cutting calories.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016 Mar 30. [Epub Ahead of Print] (Kim SJ et al.)

Vegan Diets Linked with Lower Risk of Prostate Cancer

Over a quarter of cancer cases in men are prostate cancer, so dietary strategies to prevent prostate cancer could benefit many. To study this relationship, scientists analyzed the diet and prostate cancer diagnoses in a group of over 26,000 men for nearly 8 years. They found that vegan diets (diets that exclude all animal products, including dairy and eggs) were linked with a 35% lower risk of prostate cancer than non-vegetarian diets that included meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs. Other vegetarian diets (that include dairy and eggs) did not show a statistically significant protective effect.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016 Jan;103(1):153-60. (Tantamango-Bartley Y et al.)

Mediterranean and Vegetarian Diets May Benefit Gut Microbiome

Eating a variety of healthy plant foods is one of the best ways to nurture our friendly gut bacteria, and new research suggests that Mediterranean and vegetarian diets may be useful models. Scientists analyzed the eating patterns and gut bacteria of 153 Italian adults. They found that those most closely following a Mediterranean diet or vegetarian/vegan diet had higher levels of short chain fecal acids, a compound associated with many health benefits. On the other hand, those not following a Mediterranean diet had higher levels of urinary trimethylamine oxide, a potential risk factor for heart disease. The researchers also noted that both vegetarian/vegans and those on a Mediterranean diet scored highly on the Healthy Food Diversity Index, meaning that these eating styles could be a useful blueprint for people wanting to incorporate a variety of nutritious foods into their diet.
Gut. 2015 Sept 28. [Epub ahead of print] (De Filippis F et al.)

Plant Based Diets with Olive Oil Cost Less than USDA MyPlate Diet

Traditional plant-centered diets (such as the Mediterranean diet) are based on affordable local specialties and garden vegetables. To see if traditional ways of getting healthy meals on the table stand up to modern food economics, researchers calculated the cost of a 7-day meal plan for an economical version of the USDA MyPlate guidelines, and compared it to that of a plant-based diet with olive oil. They found that choosing a plant-based diet, instead of the budget MyPlate diet, could save $746.46 per person per year, and provide vastly more servings of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. 2015 Sept 23. [Epub ahead of print] (MM Flynna et al.)

Beans Just as Filling as Meat

Pulses, the food group that includes beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils, are central to traditional cuisines around the world, and are an especially important source of nutrients in plant-based diets. In a small study, researchers at the University of Minnesota fed 28 adults either a bean-based “meatloaf” (17g protein, 12g fiber) or a beef-based meatloaf (26g protein, 3g fiber) to compare how beans and meat affect fullness. The two meals had equal calories, fat, and weight. One week later, the adults changed groups and were given the other meatloaf, serving as their own control. The scientists found no significant differences in appetite or food intake at the next meal between the two different meatloaves, suggesting that beans are just as satiating as beef, possibly due to their fiber and protein content. However, the bean group did experience moderate gas and bloating.
Journal of Food Science. 2015 Sep;80(9):2088-93. (Bonnema AL et al.)

Eating Fish May Prevent Depression

Fish is well known for its place in many of the healthiest diets around the world. To determine the link between eating fish and depression risk, Chinese scientists reviewed 26 studies of over 150,000 people. The researchers concluded that “high fish consumption can reduce the risk of depression.”  
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2015 Sep 10. pii: jech-2015-206278. [Epub ahead of print.] (Li Fu et al.)

High Phytate Foods (Beans, Nuts, Whole Grains, etc.) May Help Young Women Better Absorb Iron over Time

Phytates are compounds found in many plant foods, especially in beans and whole grains. Although phytates are linked with health benefits, they can also block the absorption of non-heme iron (the type of iron found in beans and other plant sources). To see how eating these phytate-rich foods affects nutrition status, scientists in Iowa assigned 28 non-anemic young women to either a high phytate (lots of whole grains, beans, nuts, and tofu) or low phytate (refined grains, eggs, and cheese, avoiding high phytate foods) diet for eight weeks, then tested their iron levels. After consuming a high phytate diet for 8 weeks, there was a 41% increase in serum iron response (measured by area under the curve). This indicates that “habitual consumption of [a high phytate] diet can reduce the negative effect of phytate on non-heme iron absorption among young women with sub-optimal iron stores.”
Journal of Nutrition. 2015 Aug;145(8):1735-9. (Armah SM et al.)

Soy is Just as Filling As Beef

Soy foods, such as tofu, have anchored traditional Asian diets for centuries. In a small study, researchers at the University of Missouri fed 21 adults either a beef based lunch or a soy based lunch for two different days in a week to compare how different protein sources affect fullness. The two meals were matched for calories, macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fat) and fiber, and were the same serving size. One to two weeks later, the adults changed groups and were given the other meals, serving as their own control. The scientists found no significant differences in appetite, satiety or food intake at the next meal between the beef based meal or the soy based meal. As communities begin to embrace sustainable food systems and shift red meat to a smaller portion of the plate, soy proteins, like tofu, may offer an attractive alternative.
Journal of Nutrition. 2015 May;145(5):1010-6. (Douglas SM et al.)

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.

Recent Blog Posts

“Although there are exceptions, tradition rarely honors unhealthy hab...
Soft, tangy, and milky white, fresh cheeses are the darlings of the cheese...
You can’t talk food and nutrition without also discussing sustainabi...

E-Newsletter Sign-up

Sign up for one or more of our Oldways newsletters. After you enter your email and click Submit you’ll be given a chance to choose which newsletter(s) you want.

Email: