Medical researchers have long said plant-based diets are healthier — but it turns out what type of plant-based foods matter a lot.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and other ‘basic’ plant foods can in fact lower the risk of heart disease, result in less obesity and other positive impacts. But a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology looked at data from 200,000 people and discovered another alarming trend.
Many were choosing highly processed plant-based foods like processed snacks, sugary cereal and fake bacon in the mistaken belief they were healthy. In fact they’re the opposite, and a high intake of these foods were found to cause a higher risk of heart disease. This negative impact was consistent when the researchers controlled for age, sex, BMI, and family history.
Boiled down the researchers found plant-based diets that did not include processed food were the healthiest. The next best choice was diets that included plenty of whole fruits and vegetables but little processed food. The worst diets were the ones — vegan, vegetarian or including meat — that were high in processed foods.
“These studies of vegetarian and vegan diets haven’t distinguished between different qualities of plant food,” says lead author Ambika Satija, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. “Certain plant foods, like whole grains and fruits and vegetables, are associated with lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But other plant foods, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, are actually associated with increased risk.”