What Should We Eat?
Diet wars keep raging as we humans try to solve one of our most controversial issues: what should we eat?
In a recent study, a diet strikingly similar to what is suggested in Ayurveda has been found to dramatically lower risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, the second leading cause of death in the world. Stroke is also directly linked to age-related dementia, suggesting a diet reducing risk of stroke could also reduce risk of dementia.1
Ayurveda calls for a vegetarian, unprocessed, 90-95% plant-based, whole food diet, including small amounts of cultured dairy (mostly yogurt, ghee, buttermilk, and soft cheeses like paneer). There are no eggs, alcohol, stimulants, or meat, except for medicinal purposes. Rice, beans, fruits, vegetables, tubers, nuts, seeds, and whole grains make up the bulk of an Ayurvedic diet—all eaten seasonally.
A recent study in Neurology supports the Ayurvedic prescription: “People who eat a vegetarian diet rich in nuts, vegetables and soy may have a lower risk of stroke than people who eat a diet that includes meat and fish.”1
Their study was done on two large groups from Buddhist communities, where alcohol and smoking are discouraged. The first group had 5,050 volunteers, followed for six years, and the second group had 8,302 volunteers, followed for nine years. The average age was 50 and none of the participants had experienced a prior stroke.
30% of both groups were vegetarian, meaning no meat or fish. They ate more nuts, vegetables, fiber, plant protein, and less dairy than the non-vegetarians, but the same amount of fruit and eggs.
After adjusting for age, sex, smoking, and health conditions (like high blood pressure and diabetes), researchers found vegetarians in the first group had a 74% lower risk of ischemic stroke than non-vegetarians.
In the second group, vegetarians had a 48% lower risk of overall stroke than non-vegetarians, a 60% lower risk of ischemic stroke and a 65% lower risk of hemorrhagic stroke.
Benefits of Vegetarian Diets
Many other studies cite the benefits of vegetarian diets. Vegetarian diets encompass several diet types, including semi-vegetarian (flexitarian), pesco-vegetarian, lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, lacto-ovo-vegetarian, vegan, and raw-food vegan diets. Semi-vegetarians include small amounts of meat, mainly from fish and poultry. Pesco-vegetarians ingest some fish, in addition to foods of animal and plant origin. Milk and dairy products are ingested by lacto-vegetarians; ovo-vegetarians include eggs; and lacto-ovo-vegetarians ingest both dairy products and eggs. Individuals who adhere to vegan diets exclude all meats and animal products.2
In general, these vegetarian diets have been found to lower blood pressure and decrease risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancers, cataracts, intestinal diverticular concerns. They reduce arterial stenosis2 and lower risk of ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke, gout, cataract, dementia, and depression compared to regular consumption of meat.3
Whether you are a semi-vegetarian, vegan, or some sort of vegetarian in between, the science suggests there are numerous health benefits linked to a primarily plant-based diet.2 To be fair, there are studies that suggest consumption of a meat-based diet can have health benefits, but when a red meat diet was compared to a poultry and fish diet, the poultry and fish diet was healthier.5 When a poultry and fish diet was compared to a mostly plant-based vegetarian diet, the plant-based diets were healthier.2
The Centenarian Diet
According to Dan Buettner, author of bestselling books on the Blue Zones, centenarians around the world eat a seasonal 90-95% plant-based diet. Their diets revolve around leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, and collards, along with beets, nuts, seeds, seasonal veggies, fruits, whole grains, mostly olive oil for fat, and a daily serving of beans.
Only ~5-10% of this diet is derived from animal protein, which includes small amounts of meat, dairy (from cow, sheep, and goat), eggs, and fish. They drink large amounts of water, along with some tea, coffee, and wine.
Whatever diet you choose, make sure it is whole food, unrefined, and non-processed. More than ¾ of food purchased in American households is moderately to severely processed, which has been linked to a number of health concerns, including soaring rates of obesity.4 Avoiding processed foods alone would likely change the rising rates of chronic illness.
Save the Planet by Changing Your Diet
Thirty longevity scientists deliberated for three years to design a diet that would be able to feed the growing human population by the year 2050. The diet, called the planetary health diet, says we should eat primarily plant-based with small amounts of meat and dairy.6,7
The planetary diet is not suggesting vegetarians start eating meat or dairy. Vegetarians are way ahead of the curve—it is just making the urgent case that if we do not cut meat and animal protein consumption down, we will not be able to feed the population nor ward off the impact of global warming. They did also consider the health benefits of eating less meat and animal protein.
The commission suggests eating one-half ounce of beef per day, three ounces a week, or a 12-ounce steak once per month. Traditionally, as seen in the Mediterranean Diet and with centenarians, our ancestors would cook a piece of meat in a stew and everyone in the family would get a very small portion once or twice a week, delivering roughly three ounces per week.
What is your diet like? Are there any changes you would like to make? Let us know so we can support you!
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