Vegetarianism is all the buzz across the world these days, and I definitely support increased plant intake. But if you think vegetarians always eat healthier than non-vegetarians, and a blanket ban on non-vegetarian food is a foolproof way to stay healthy, you are way off the mark.
I have always believed that just arbitrarily cutting out or reducing animal products is not enough to improve our health, and new research too points towards it.
A study published in July conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health has clearly shown that vegetarian diets can be harmful too, especially when it comes to our heart's health.
Fried, vegetarian junk food is a disaster.
However, the results of this huge study are quite in line with what logic and commonsense has been telling us forever - that a plant-based diet can help keep most diseases (like diabetes, cancer, inflammatory disorders etc.) away.
For this study, data collected over 25 years from 200,000 health professionals without heart disease was observed, and the following two dietary patterns were tracked:
a. Healthful plant-based diet index (hPDI) - Those eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, tea, coffee, vegetable oils.
b. Unhealthful plant-based diet index (uPDI) - Where people had a diet laced with juices/sweetened beverages, refined grains, sweets and fried potatoes. In other words: a junk food vegetarian or vegan diet.
Plant-based food is not automatically healthy. Photo: Reuters/File
The results were interesting. The data suggests that for those following the hPDI, the risk of health disease was slashed by 25 per cent, but for those following the uPDI pattern of eating, the risk actually increased by as much as 30 per cent, and they suffered from more heart attacks.
The data clearly indicates that turning vegetarian alone cannot help us get and stay healthier. Rather, we need to look more closely at the kind of vegetarian food we are consuming in this quest. Because it is the quality of the food that matters, not just whether it is plant- or meat-based.
The fact is that eating plant junk is as bad, probably worse, than eating animal-based foods. Consider this: eating potato / jackfruit fries instead of a grilled fish salad will only worsen your health, instead of helping it.
Sweetened beverages are a no-no.
Similarly, eating from a can or digging into preservatives-laden foods all the time, even if strictly vegetarian or vegan, will take our toxin levels to a new high, and overwrite whatever good those plant foods could do to our body.
The fact is that for optimal benefits, just turning vegetarian or cutting down on animal produce is not the answer - we need to follow the WFPB diet - Whole Food Plant based Diet.
We need to be smart about the vegetarian options we choose to eat. Only then a plant-based diet can actually help us reach our health goals.