The largest study ever to compare the obesity rates of those eating plant-based diets was published in North America. Meat eaters topped the charts with an average body mass index (BMI) of 28.8—close to being obese. Flexitarians (people who ate meat more on a weekly basis rather than daily) did better at a BMI of 27.3, but were still overweight. With a BMI of 26.3, pesco-vegetarians (people who avoid all meat except fish) did better still. Even U.S. vegetarians tend to be marginally overweight, coming in at 25.7. The only dietary group found to be of ideal weight were those eating strictly plant-based (the “vegans”), whose BMI averaged 23.6.
People who had once eaten vegetarian diets but then started to consume meat at least once a week were found in one study to experience a 146 percent increase in odds of heart disease, a 152 percent increase in stroke, a 166 percent increase in diabetes, and a 231 percent increase in odds for weight gain.
But vegetarians may suffer high rates of chronic disease if they eat a lot of processed foods. Take India, for example, where rates of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and stroke have increased far faster than might have been expected given its relatively small increase in per-capita meat consumption. This has been blamed in part on the apparent shift from brown rice to white and substitution of other refined carbohydrates, packaged snacks, and fast-food products for India’s traditional staples of lentils, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
The dividing line between health-promoting and disease-promoting foods may be less plant- versus animal-sourced foods and more whole plant foods versus most everything else.
A dietary quality index was developed that simply reflects the percentage of calories people derive from nutrient-rich, unprocessed plant foods on a scale of 0 to 100. The higher the score, the more body fat may be lost over time and the lower the risk may be of abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides. The standard American diet was found to rate 11 out of 100. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, 32 percent of our calories comes from animal foods, 57 percent from processed plant foods, and only 11 percent from whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. That means on a scale of one to ten, the American diet would rate about a one.
Image Credit: sam74100 / Thinkstock. This image has been modified.
Popular Videos for Weight Loss
All Videos for Weight Loss
Which Coffee Is Healthier: Light vs. Dark Roast?
Dark roast coffee is more effective than light roast coffee in reducing body weight.
Are There Benefits of Energy Drinks?
The effects of Red Bull and Monster brand energy drinks on artery function and athletic performance.
Benefits of Ginger for Obesity and Fatty Liver Disease
Ground ginger powder is put to the test for weight loss and NAFLD, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Pros and Cons of a Macrobiotic Diet
What happens when you put diabetics on a diet composed of largely whole grains, vegetables, and beans?
The Weight Loss Program that Got Better with Time
The most well-published community-based lifestyle intervention in the medical literature is also one of the most effective.
What Is the Optimal Diet?
The CHIP program has attempted to take the pioneering lifestyle medicine work of Pritikin and Ornish and spread it out into the community.
Do Chia Seeds Help with Belly Fat?
The secret to the benefits of chia seeds may be that you have to grind them up.
Benefits of Beans for Peripheral Vascular Disease
Do legumes (beans, chickpeas, split peas, and lentils) just work to prevent disease or can they help treat and reverse it as well?
Does an Apple a Day Really Keep the Doctor Away?
Which would save more lives: a prescription to eat an apple a day, or statin drugs?
Are Avocados Fattening?
Avocado Board-funded studies suggest avocados may facilitate weight loss, but compared to what?
The Rise in Blood Lead Levels at Pregnancy & Menopause
The lead trapped in our skeleton can leach back into our bloodstream when we temporarily or permanently lose bone due to pregnancy, weight loss, menopause, or osteoporosis.
Are Lectins in Food Good or Bad for You?
Might lectins help explain why those who eat more beans and whole grains have less cancer?