With so many fad diets out there, and some with very little science to back them up, it can be difficult to discern what is right for you. Join NUNM’s nutrition program, as we take a look at popular diets and break down the science. Jessica Gilbreath, Master of Science in Nutrition student, discusses the scientific benefits and potential deficiencies associated with a plant based diet.
What is a Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based is diet is one based primarily on whole foods and plants, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts. There are many routes an individual may take when opting to take on a plant-based lifestyle including vegan, vegetarian, or whole food plant-based (WFPB).
A vegan diet omits all animal products, including dairy, meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and sometimes honey. Vegetarian diets exclude all meat and poultry from their diets but may retain eggs, or dairy. WFBP emphasizes whole, minimally processed foods, limits or avoids animal products depending on the individual’s preferences.
Potential Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet 
● Improved cardiovascular health (decreased blood pressure, lowered heart rate, reduced risk for cardiovascular events)
● Lower total cholesterol and LDL levels
● Reduced carbon footprint
● Lower risk of developing diabetes type II
● Improved glycemic control (reduction of Hemoglobin A1C in people with Diabetes Type II)
● Weight management
● Protection from certain types of cancer
● Improved neurocognitive function, prevention and management of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Is a Plant-Based Diet Good For Everyone?
There are unhealthy ways to eat plant-based. The data surrounding the benefits of a plant-based diet emphasizes fresh, whole ingredients and minimizing processed foods in addition to increasing plant products. Shifting to a plant-based diet or even simply adding more fresh produce into an individual’s diet is sure to improve health in some way. However, without proper planning and education around foods, plant-based diets may pose the following health concerns:
● Low protein intake
● Iron deficiency
● Decreased bone mineralization and increased risk of fractures from lower intake of calcium and vitamin D
● Vitamin B12 deficiency
● Lower essential fatty acid intake
Naturally, what we eat depends on who is eating. The general opinion around plant-based diets is slowly shifting from the strict ideals of vegan and vegetarian to a flexible way of life that can be tailored to the individual. Plant-based diets are generally considered safe and healthy, but do require planning and lifestyle shifts around the foods an individual is choosing to consume. Choosing to eat primarily plant-based may positively impact the environment and improve the health of certain individuals.
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- Lanou AJ, Svenson B. Reduced cancer risk in vegetarians: an analysis of recent reports. Cancer Manag Res. 2010;3:1-8.
- Pistollato F, Iglesias RC, Ruiz R, et al. Nutritional patterns associated with the maintenance of neurocognitive functions and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease: A focus on human studies. Pharmacol Res. 2018;131:32-43.
- Springmann M, Wiebe K, Mason-d’croz D, Sulser TB, Rayner M, Scarborough P. Health and nutritional aspects of sustainable diet strategies and their association with environmental impacts: a global modelling analysis with country-level detail. Lancet Planet Health. 2018;2(10):e451-e461.
Interested in nutrition? NUNM has several nutrition programs to choose from: online or on-campus Master in Nutrition, a 3-year Accelerated Bachelor to Master in Nutrition and a Bachelor in Nutrition program. Sign up and request more information to learn more about your options!