How to achieve weight loss healthily. Learn more in our easy-to-understand videos on the latest research.
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 weight loss-promoting, 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.
For more in-depth data on this topic, check out Dr. Greger’s book, How Not to Diet. It hones in on the optimal criteria to enable weight loss while considering how these foods actually affect our health and longevity.
Image Credit: sam74100 / Thinkstock. This image has been modified.
Popular Videos for Weight Loss
All Videos for Weight Loss
The Role of Diet vs. Exercise in the Obesity Epidemic
The common explanations for the cause of the obesity epidemic put forward by the food industry and policymakers, such as inactivity or a lack of willpower, are not only wrong, but actively harmful fallacies.
Foods that Help Headache & Migraine Relief
Plant-based diets are put to the test for treating migraine headaches.
Fasting to Naturally Reverse High Blood Pressure
A whole food plant-based diet can be used to help lock in the benefits of fasting to kickstart the reversal of high blood pressure.
How to Lower Blood Pressure Naturally with Lifestyle Changes
The effect of fasting to lower blood pressure compared to medications, cutting down on alcohol, meat and salt, eating more fruits and vegetables, or eating completely plant-based.
What the New Blood Pressure Range Guidelines Mean
Natural approaches to lowering high blood pressure can work better than drugs because you’re treating the underlying cause, and can end up having only good side effects.
Effects of Marijuana on Weight Gain and Bone Density
Are the apparent adverse effects of heavy cannabis use on bone just due to users being skinnier?
Why People Gain Weight in the Fall
A list of “specific recommendations for the prevention of obesity by improving the circadian system health.”
Shedding Light on Shedding Weight
Randomized, controlled trials of phototherapy (morning bright light) for weight loss.
The Metabolic Harms of Night Shifts and Irregular Meals
What shift workers can do to moderate the adverse effects of circadian rhythm disruption.
How Circadian Rhythms Affect Blood Sugar Levels
The same meal eaten at the wrong time of day can double blood sugars.
Eat More Calories in the Morning than the Evening
Why are calories eaten in the morning less fattening than calories eaten in the evening?
Breakfast Like a King, Lunch Like a Prince, Dinner Like a Pauper
Harness the power of your circadian rhythms for weight loss by making breakfast or lunch your main meal of the day.