Not all vegan or plant-based diets are equally healthy

Vegan Diet Vegetables

By HENA PATEL and KIM ALLAN WILLIAMS, SR

 

Move over, low-fat diets. More and more experts are recommending plant-based diets to reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions such as diabetes and cancer.

But are all plant-based diets equally beneficial? And must they be all-or-none eating strategies, or is there a role for a semi-vegetarian or “flexitarian” approach?

The term plant-based diet often conjures up images of vegetarian or vegan fare. But it really means a diet that emphasizes foods from plants — vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, and the like — not one that necessarily excludes non-plant foods.

The results of studies on the health effects of plant-based diets have varied widely, largely due to how these diets were defined. Some focused on vegetarian or vegan eating habits, others included some foods from animals. Notably, these studies tended to treat all plant foods equally, even though eating certain foods from plants, such as refined grains and sugar-sweetened beverages, is associated with a higher risk of developing diabetes or having a heart attack or stroke, while eating whole grains and produce are associated with lower risks.

That’s why we were so interested to see the results of a recently published study performed by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Led by Ambika Satija, the team catalogued the diets of nearly 210,000 nurses and other health professionals based on their answers to food frequency questionnaires every two years for an average of 23 years. From these data, the researchers defined three versions of a plant-based diet: an overall plant-based diet that emphasizes the consumption of all plant foods and reduced the intake of animal foods; a healthful plant-based diet that emphasizes the intake of healthy whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; and an unhealthful plant-based diet that emphasizes the intake of less-healthy plant foods, such as refined grains.

In addition to detailing their food choices, the study participants also recorded other lifestyle choices, health behaviors, and their medical histories.

Over the course of the study, 8,631 participants developed coronary heart disease, which the researchers defined as a nonfatal heart attack or dying of heart disease. Those who followed an overall plant-based diet were slightly less likely (an 8 percent reduction) to have developed coronary heart disease than those who didn’t.

But here’s where things get interesting. Those who followed a healthful plant-based diet had a substantial 25 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease, while those who followed an unhealthful plant-based diet had a substantial 32 percent increased risk.

This study is certainly not the last word on the subject. As an observational study, it can’t prove cause and effect like a randomized trial can. And the diet data came from self reports, which aren’t always accurate at measuring an individual’s diet. However, these diet assessments were validated against multiple-week diet records and biomarkers. Overall, this work adds to the substantial evidence that a predominately plant-based diet reduces the risk of developing heart disease.

It has two important take-home messages. One is that a plant-based diet is good for long-term health. The other is that not all plant-based diets are equally healthy. The kind that deserves to be highlighted in dietary recommendations is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and unsaturated fats, and contains minimal animal protein, refined carbohydrates, and harmful saturated and trans fats.

In practice, this translates into eating mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and soy products in their natural forms; sufficient “good fats,” such as those in fish or flax seeds, nuts, and other seeds; very few simple and refined carbohydrates; and little or no red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. It also means choosing quality over quantity.

Click here to read the rest of this article origially published in StatNews,com

 

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Food & Drug Administration Warns of Gastric Balloon Deaths

by Kristina Fiore

7 reports of death tied to gastric balloon obesity treatment since 2016

The FDA sent a letter to healthcare providers warning of reports of seven deaths with liquid-filled intragastric balloon systems used to treat obesity.

In five cases, the cause of death was unclear, but all occurred within a month or less of balloon placement, the agency said. In three of those cases, the patient died within one to three days of having the balloon inserted.

Four of these reports involved the Orbera Intragastric Balloon System from Apollo Endo Surgery, and one involved the ReShape Integrated Dual Balloon System by ReShape Medical.

The FDA noted that for these five cases it doesn’t know “the root cause” of the problem. It also can’t determine the incidence rate of patient death, nor could it “definitively attribute the deaths to the devices or the insertion procedures for these devices” — meaning they couldn’t tell if death was due to gastric or esophageal perforation, or to intestinal obstruction, or to some other cause.

Two additional reports of deaths in the same time period — since 2016 — were also noted in the FDA letter. One was related to gastric perforation with the Orbera Intragastric Balloon System and one to esophageal perforation with the ReShape device.

The FDA said it’s working with both companies to better understand what’s causing these issues, and to monitor potential complications of acute pancreatitis and spontaneous overinflation. It also emphasized that it had mandated ongoing post-approval studies for the devices.

Article originally appeared in MedPage Today

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