Vegetarian and plant-based diets have become increasingly popular due to health and environmental reasons. However, Greek researchers conducted a study to show that not all vegetarian diets are necessarily healthy for those with obesity.
'The quality of plant-based diets varies,' shared Matina Kouvari of Harokopio University and the team. There are numerous vegetarian diets such as Lacto-ovo, which includes eggs and dairy products, or pescatarian, which includes seafood. Other vegetarian diets are strictly plant-based such as veganism.
During a meeting with the European Society of Cardiology, Kouvari and the team assessed the diets of 146 people from Athens who had obesity. The participants did not have a heart condition and had normal blood sugar, pressure, and cholesterol levels.
The participants answered a questionnaire about their eating habits with the past year, which included more than 100 types of food and beverage typically found in Greece. In ten years, almost 50% of the participants had an increase in high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels, which increased their risk of obtaining heart disease.
Meanwhile, plant-based diets helped keep glucose, blood sugar, and pressure levels regulated. The healthy diet consisted of fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, and other unprocessed foods.
However, there were also unhealthy vegetarian diets including juices sweetened with refined sugar, refined grains like white bread, and sweets. Even if the person became vegetarian, these unhealthy choices contributed to developing factors of obesity.
Kouvari shared that their findings were more evident in women. 'Prior research has shown that women tend to eat more plant-based foods and less animal-based products than men. But our study suggests that this does not guarantee healthier food choices and in turn better health status.'
Most plant-based and vegetarian diets are too broad and are sometimes labeled as low in meat consumption but may not necessarily be health, said the researchers. Their study focuses on 'the variable nutritional quality of plant foods,' and not just going vegetarian or plant-based.
Dietitian Sharon Zarabi from Lenox Hill Hospital agreed that removing meat from one's diet is not a guarantee for good or better health. 'Going vegetarian and avoiding meat will leave more room for highly processed carbohydrates, which raise insulin levels and make weight loss difficult,' she shared.
Zarabi explained that vegetarians who are well informed and knowledgeable about nutrition would focus on reducing blood pressure, insulin levels, cholesterol. This would include having a plan to incorporate eggs, fish, nuts, or seeds in their diet depending on what kind of vegetarian they are.
To become healthier from obesity, people need to manage protein intake while avoiding excess carbohydrates for better health. Whatever diet people choose, it is also important to make it 'sustainable and enjoyable,' said Zarabi. In another study, researchers said that fighting obesity is more than just cutting calories.
Obesity Canada reported that 'Obesity continues to be treated as a self-inflicted condition,' but is actually a lifestyle and behavioral issue. A better solution to treating obesity would be to find to root causes of the problem and make realistic goals about adopting a healthier lifestyle
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