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Plant Based Diets Can Lower Blood Pressure

Studies have shown that plant-based diets can help lower blood pressure, but researchers wonder how strict you must be with your vegetarian diet to see results. A systematic review of 41 clinical trials was performed to see how different plant-based diets, including some with low levels of animal products (the Mediterranean, Vegan, Nordic, high-fiber, and high-fruit and vegetable diets) impacted blood pressure. The results showed that even plant-based diet with limited animal products can be effective in reducing high pressure, indicating that even small steps to improve health can make a measurable difference. 
Journal of Hypertension. 2021 Jan;39(1):23-37. doi: 10.1097/HJH.0000000000002604. (Gibbs, J.et al)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Better Thyroid Health

Our thyroids act as internal thermostats providing our bodies with hormones that help balance our heart, muscle, and digestive function, brain development, and bone maintenance. In this study, researchers analyzed the eating habits and health of 200 people, about half with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid) and half without. Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were less likely to have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Eating more animal foods (like meat) and fewer plant foods (like vegetables) was also linked with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.  However, more research is needed on how diet might impact autoimmune and thyroid health.
Thyroid. 2021 Jan;31(1):96-105. doi: 10.1089/thy.2020.0299. (Ruggeri RM et al.)

Vegetarian Diets Linked with Lower Risk of Cataracts

Cataracts contribute to more than half of the blindness incidences globally. Diets with more antioxidants are thought to help prevent cataracts, so in this study, researchers wanted to see how vegetarian diets relate to cataract risk. A total of 4,436 Taiwanese participants (1,341 vegetarians and 3,095 non-vegetarians) free of cataracts at the time of recruitment were followed for approximately six years. After evaluating the development of cataracts among all participants, the researchers discovered that vegetarians had a 20% lower risk of cataracts than non-vegetarians. This relationship was strongest among people whose BMI is greater than 24 (overweight and nearly overweight individuals). Vegetarians tend to consume more soy, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, dietary fiber, vitamin C, folate, and vitamin A compared to non-vegetarians, so these nutritious foods and nutrients may have also impacted the lower risk of cataracts. 
Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2020 Dec 11;S2212-2672(20)31428-3. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2020.11.003 (Chiu THT et al.)

Protein from Different Sources Are Linked with Different Impacts on Longevity

While the optimal amount of protein to sustain health is subject to debate, the research is increasingly clear that protein from different sources has different impacts on health. This systematic review attempted to investigate how varied protein diets (total/animal/plant protein) impact the mortality rate. After assessing the results from 31 different studies, the researchers found that eating more total protein and plant protein are both linked to a lower risk of deaths from all causes. In particular, those who eat more plant proteins were at a lower risk of death caused by heart diseases. However, eating more animal protein did not appear to be related to lower mortality. Additionally, higher total protein intake is not associated with a lower death rate caused by cancer.
BMJ. 2020 July 22; 370. doi:10.1136/bmj.m2412 (Naghshi S et al.)

Vegetarians Have Lower Risk of Stroke

Vegetarians tend to be healthier than their meat-eating counterparts, though some are at risk of falling short on Vitamin B12 (found in animal foods or in supplements). In this study, researchers followed more than 13,000 adults in Taiwan for up to 9 years to see how vegetarianism related to stroke risk. Vegetarians had a significantly lower risk of stroke compared with people who ate meat and fish. Interestingly, when comparing vegetarians who get adequate vitamin B12 with vegetarians who fall below vitamin B12 recommendations, it was only the subgroup of vegetarians with inadequate vitamin B12 (less than 2.4 μg) that had a lower risk of stroke.
Neurology. 2020 Mar 17;94(11):e1112-e1121. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000009093. Epub 2020 Feb 26. (Chiu THT et al.)

Focus on Culture, Flavor, & Affordability May Help Drive Interest in Plant-Based Diets in Black Communities

There is overwhelming research supporting the health benefits of healthy plant-based diets, yet researchers wonder how this evidence translates to Black communities. In this review, the authors note that “the diets of Blacks were historically predominantly plant-based in Africa, and elements of that are still seen in some of today’s cultural cuisine.” Some recommendations from this review include gradually increasing intake of healthy plant-based foods, gradually decreasing intake of animal-based foods, providing culturally-appropriate interventions, providing flavorful, low-cost plant-based options, and focusing on healthy foods that are already regularly enjoyed in Black cuisine (such as leafy greens, tubers, and okra).
Nutrients. 2019 Dec 2;11(12). pii: E2915. doi: 10.3390/nu11122915. (Sterling SR et al.)

Eating a Plant-Based Diet for 5 Weeks Can Lower 10-Year Heart Disease Risk

Lifestyle changes can have a measurable impact on health, even after a short period of time. In this study, 36 African American participants in Chicago ate a completely plant-based diet for 5 weeks and had their heart disease (specifically, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease) 10-year risk scores calculated both before and after the study. After eating the plant-based diet, the 10-year heart disease risk was reduced by 19.4%, “bad” LDL cholesterol was lowered by 14%, and their systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) was lowered by 10 mm Hg.
Circulation. 2019 Nov 11;140:A16318 (Fugar S et al.)

Healthy Diets Linked with Healthy Gut Microbiome in Patients with Intestinal Issues

The species of bacteria that live in our gut are thought to impact our health, so researchers wonder if diet might impact the gut microbiome of people burdened by intestinal disorders. In this study, researchers analyzed the gut microbiome of 4 different groups of people (including a general population, patients with Crohn’s disease, patients with ulcerative colitis, and patients with irritable bowel syndrome). They found that diets rich in bread, legumes, fish, and nuts were linked with lower levels of inflammatory markers and lower levels of potentially harmful aerobic bacteria. On the other hand, diets rich in meat, fast food, and sugar were linked with higher inflammatory markers. (Note that findings presented at meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.)
Presentation at UEG Week Meeting. Barcelona. October 21, 2019. (Bolts L et al.)

Healthy Diet in Midlife Linked with Lower Risk of Cognitive Impairment Later in Life

Eating a healthy diet in mid-life can pay dividends in later decades. In this study, researchers analyzed the eating habits of 16,948 middle-aged adults in China, then assessed their brain function 20 years later. Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet or a Plant-Based Diet were 33% and 18% less likely to have cognitive impairment than those not following those diets. Other healthy diets, including the DASH diet and the alternative Healthy Eating Index, were also linked with significantly lower risks of cognitive impairment.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2019 Oct 1;110(4):912-920. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqz150. (Wu J et al.)

Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet Linked with Weight Loss, Healthier Gut Microbiome

Researchers randomly assigned 148 overweight and obese adults to a low-fat vegan diet, or to continue their usual diet for 16 weeks. Those in the vegan group lost about a pound per week, and also lost a significant amount of body fat. Additionally, the vegan group (who ate lots of legumes, fruits, vegetables, and nuts) also had higher levels of beneficial bacteriodetes in their gut. This may partially explain some of the health benefits of plant-based diets, because people with diabetes, insulin resistance, and inflammation tend to have low levels of bacteriodetes. (Note that findings presented at meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.)
Presentation at European Association for the Study of Diabetes 2019 Annual Meeting. Barcelona, Spain. September 17, 2019.

Plant-Based Diets Linked with 23-30% Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Plant-based diets, which emphasize healthy plant foods like whole grains, legumes, vegetables, nuts, and fruits, and de-emphasize or eliminate animal foods like meat, dairy, and eggs, are gaining popularity among people with all sorts of dietary preferences. In this study, researchers analyzed the results of 9 observational studies totaling 307,099 participants to see how plant-based diets (including both vegan and vegetarian diets) relate to type 2 diabetes risk. Those most closely following plant-based diets had a 23% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes across the study periods. When healthy plant-based foods, such as whole grains and vegetables, were included in the definition of plant-based, the relationship was even stronger, at a 30% lower risk.
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2019 Jul 22. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.2195. [Epub ahead of print] (Qian F et al.)

Mediterranean and Vegetarian Diets Can Improve Cholesterol in People with Type 2 Diabetes

Poor cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, but dietary approaches can be used to keep cholesterol in check. In this review, researchers analyzed 52 randomized controlled trials (the “gold standard” of nutrition research) encompassing 5,360 people with type 2 diabetes, to determine the relationship between diet and cholesterol. They found that vegetarian diets most effectively reduced LDL (“bad”) cholesterol compared with control diets, and that the Mediterranean diet was the overall most effective diet to treat poor cholesterol, raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol and lowering triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood that is a risk factor for heart disease when elevated).
European Journal of Epidemiology. 2019 Jun 14. doi: 10.1007/s10654-019-00534-1. [Epub ahead of print] (Neuenschwander M et al.)

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