Will a plant-based diet help you live longer?

It’s long been known that a diet rich in plants is good for your health. But could a so-called ‘plant-centred’ diet, not necessarily full-blown veganism, be the key to a long life?

Eating plenty of plant foods can help keep the weight off and your vital organs happy, and has been recommended as the basis of most healthy diets for decades.

“Fruit and vegetables can help lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers,” says the Heart Foundation. “Eating fruit and vegetables can also help manage cholesterol levels and weight.”

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend a varied diet consisting mostly of foods from five groups: vegetables, fruit, grains and cereals, lean meats, fish and eggs, milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives.

We know that in any diet we cannot ignore fruits and vegies, as much we might want to, but could your vegan friend be right? Could cutting out the meat and dairy completely and just sticking to fruit, vegies and grains not just ease your conscience but extend your life?

Well, for females, that might be true.

Two studies published recently in the Journal of the American Heart Association analysed the effects of plant food consumption through different measures. The researchers found that young females and postmenopausal women were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease and suffered fewer heart attacks when they consumed a plant-based diet.

The study focusing on postmenopausal women was conducted over 15 years and measured health outcomes for participants who followed what they called the ‘portfolio diet’ versus those who didn’t. The portfolio diet consists of nuts, plant protein (soy, beans, tofu), oats, barley, okra, eggplant, oranges, apples and berries, along with limited consumption of saturated fats and dietary cholesterol in oils. But no meat.

“Compared to women who followed the portfolio diet less frequently, those with the closest alignment were 11 per cent less likely to develop any type of cardiovascular disease, 14 per cent less likely to develop coronary heart disease and 17 per cent less likely to develop heart failure,” the study says.

However, while this is undoubtedly excellent news for your heart, there is also evidence to suggest that stripping your diet of meat could increase your risk of stroke.

A UK study found that when compared to regular meat eaters, vegetarians had a 20 per cent higher risk of haemorrhagic stroke. The risk was small, however, representing around three extra cases per 1000 people.

A diet that totally lacks meat will also put you at risk of not getting enough iron.

“Iron is essential for life; it plays a key role in the development of red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body,” says naturopath Nikki Warren.

“The World Health Organization reports that globally 24.8 per cent of people are iron deficient.

“If you do not have enough iron in your diet, you run the risk of becoming anaemic and, aside from feeling tired all the time and out of breath, it can cause issues with fertility and places a woman into a high-risk category during pregnancy. Anaemia is a low level of red blood cells, which not only affects energy levels but may impair learning, concentration and foetal brain development.”

While there are obvious benefits to increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, it would be prudent to discuss the idea of going completely meat free with your GP.

Do you think you could survive on a plant-only diet? Do you think it would improve your health enough to be worth it? Let us know in the comments section below.

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

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Written by Brad Lockyer

Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.

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