Plant Diets Validated
Author: Winston Craig, MPH, PhD, RD.
There is plenty of evidence to show that the healthiest diet contains a rich array of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts. Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the Nutrition Department at Harvard, recently said that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables plays a significant role in reducing the risk of the major Western chronic diseases.
Health Benefits of Vegetarian Diets
In their study of 50,000 male health professionals, Harvard scientists have found that men who ate red meat as a main dish 5 or more times a week had 4 times the risk of colon cancer compared with men who ate red meat less than once a month. Heavy consumers of red meat were also twice as likely to get prostate cancer.
In another study from Harvard, high-fiber diets rich in fruit and vegetables were associated with lower levels of systolic and diastolic blood pressure while meat intake was associated with higher systolic blood pressure values. Other epidemiological studies suggest that regular consumption of fruit and vegetables protects against risk of stroke.
A study from Uruguay found that a high intake of fruit and vegetables was associated with a low risk of bowel cancer. Lettuce, apples, and bananas especially showed a significant protective effect. In a recent British study, the daily con-sumption of fresh fruit was associated with a 24% reduction in mortality from heart disease, a 32% reduction in mortality from cerebrovascular disease and a 21% reduction in all causes of mortality compared with a less frequent consumption of fruit.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma accounts for about 3% of cancers in the US and affects about 43,000 Americans each year. Its incidence has increased 75% over the past 2 decades. It is now the fifth leading cause of cancer mortality. Concerning the 35,000 post-menopausal women who participated in the Women's Health Study in Iowa, 104 of the women, after 6 years, were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). Their dietary habits were compared with the rest of the women in the study. Women who ate four or more hamburgers a month had nearly twice the risk of NHL compared with the women who ate fewer than four. Elevated risk of NHL was associated with consumption of animal fat and red meat. A greater consumption of fruits was associated with a lower risk of NHL.
Americans who want to reduce their risk of cancer should limit their consumption of meat and alcohol, according to the American Cancer Society. In their recently revised Guidelines on Diet, Nutrition and Cancer published earlier this year ACS suggests that consumers need to emphasize foods from plant sources (fruit, vegetables, whole grains, pasta and beans) and limit the intake of high-fat foods (especially from animal sources) and limit consumption of meats (especially high-fat meats). Over 500,000 deaths due to cancer occur in the US annually, and proper dietary choices are an important way to reduce the risk of cancer. While some are touting the benefits of alcohol for heart disease, even a moderate intake of alcohol may significantly increase the risk of breast cancer.
In the Nurse's Health Study from Boston it was observed that excess protein increases the risk of forearm fractures but not hip fractures. Women consuming over 95 gm protein/day had a 22% increased risk of forearm fracture compared with women consuming less than 68 gm/day. The increased risk of osteoporotic fractures was seen for animal protein but not for vegetable protein.
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The popular South Beach diet, created by Dr Arthur Agatston, is a slight modification of the Atkins diet. It allows red meat, cheese, and eggs but limits the use of sugar and white flour. Dr Agatston permits carbohydrates and most vegetables high in fiber, but discourages the use of high glycemic index foods such as baked potatoes and carrots. He also discourages the use of butter and fried foods. Any short-term weight loss success would be attributed to a low caloric intake, rather than to any special feature of the diet.