Quality Matters in Plant-Focused Diet

A landslide of research over the past couple of decades has documented the benefits of eating a more plant-centric diet, such as decreased risks of obesity, heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancers. The reason that a diet packed with plant foods provides health benefits seem intuitive, as these foods are rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and phytochemicals. In fact, eating a diet based on these foods can even lower your carbon footprint. But, interestingly, recent research shows that all plant-based diets are not created equal.

A plant-based diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes was linked to a lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), while a plant-based diet focused on refined grains, juices, potatoes, and desserts was associated with a higher risk of CHD, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. This reminds us that even junk foods—brownies, sugar-sweetened sodas, chips, and candy—can be plant-based. As the good news on eating a plant-focused diet spreads and more products become available, it’s important to remember that the benefits for this lifestyle are linked to nutrient-rich, whole plants. So, skip that giant plant-based muffin and fruit drink and go for the real plant fare, such as a bowl of wheatberries topped with curried lentils and cauliflower.

—Sharon Palmer, RDN, EN Editor

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