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Take your pick! According to research published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, vegetarian and Mediterranean diets are likely equally effective in reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. The study included 107 healthy but overweight participants, ages 18–75, who were randomly assigned to follow either a low-calorie vegetarian diet (which included dairy and eggs), or a low-calorie Mediterranean diet for three months. The Mediterranean diet included poultry, fish and some red meat as well as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. After three months, the participants switched diets for another three months. Most participants were able to stay on both diets. Researchers found participants on either diet:

  • lost about 3 pounds (1.4kg) of body fat 
  • lost about 4 pounds (1.8kg) of weight overall and 
  • experienced about the same change in body mass index (BMI). 

The vegetarian diet however, was more effective at reducing LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol, while the Mediterranean diet resulted in greater reductions in triglycerides, high levels of which may increase the risk for heart attack and stroke.
Mediterranean diet
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In overweight adults with no history of diabetes, a low-fat, plant-based vegan diet can reduce visceral fat and improve both pancreatic beta-cell function and insulin resistance, potentially decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to researchers from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. (Measuring the function of beta cells, which store and release insulin, can help assess future type 2 diabetes risk.)

The study randomly assigned 73 participants with no history of diabetes either to an intervention or control group in a 1:1 ratio. For 16 weeks, participants in the intervention group followed a low-fat vegan diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes with no calorie limit. The control group made no dietary changes. Neither group changed exercise or medication routines.

Based on mathematical modeling, the researchers determined that those on a plant-based diet increased meal-stimulated insulin secretion and beta-cell glucose sensitivity, compared to those in the control group. The plant-based diet group also experienced a decrease in blood glucose levels both while fasting and during meal tests. Physicians Committee researchers posit that because the intervention group experienced weight loss, including loss of body fat, their fasting insulin resistance decreased (i.e. improved), and their beta-cell function improved as a result.

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Substituting one to two servings of animal proteins with plant proteins every day could lead to a small reduction in the three main cholesterol markers for cardiovascular disease prevention. The health benefits could be even greater if people combined plant proteins with other cholesterol-lowering foods such as viscous, water soluble fibres from oats, barley and psyllium, and plant sterols, said lead author of the study, Dr John Sievenpiper of St. Michael’s Hospital.

The study (a systematic review and meta-analysis of 112 randomized control trials in which people substituted plant proteins for some animal proteins in their diets for at least three weeks) looked at the impact of replacing animal protein with plant protein on three key markers for cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL or “bad” cholesterol, which contributes to fatty build-ups in arteries and raises the risk for heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease); non-high density lipoprotein cholesterol (non-HDL-C, or total cholesterol minus HDL or healthy/good cholesterol) and apolipoprotein B (the proteins in bad cholesterol that clog arteries).

Dr. Sievenpiper said the review indicated that replacing one to two servings of animal proteins with plant proteins every day — primarily soy, nuts and pulses (dried peas and beans, lentils and chickpeas) — could reduce the main cholesterol markers by about 5 per cent. “That may not sound like much, but because people in North America eat very little plant protein, there is a real opportunity here to make some small changes to our diets and realize the health benefits,” he said.

Vegan diet

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Childhood obesity is a reality for one in five children in the USA. Five million young people are living with severe obesity. At the same time, half a million US teens are living with an eating disorder. Parents and healthcare providers can’t afford to neglect either of these very real problems.

A study in Pediatrics however reports that encouraging teens to diet can do lasting harm. Teens who receive diet talk from their parents are more likely to have problems with obesity as adults. But that’s not all. These teens are also more likely to have issues with binge eating, unhealthy weight-related behaviours, and body dissatisfaction in adulthood.

Most troubling, though, is the finding that this cycle repeats. As parents, these young adults are more likely to inflict that diet talk on their own children. The cycle repeats. ConscienHealth’s Ted Kyle reports on that confusing four-letter word and what parents should do.

Everyone has a diet, meaning their pattern for eating day after day. But in the context of going on a diet, it becomes a verb – dieting. And that’s where the problem starts. Short-term, highly restrictive diets are not a prescription for long-term health. Nonetheless, people consume great volumes of information about diets: low carb, low fat, Mediterranean, vegetarian, flexitarian, DASH, and the list goes on. Some of these can be the foundation for a sustainable pattern of eating for good health. Others can be severely restrictive and unsustainable. What is clear is that parenting requires attention to the severe harm that four letter word, “diet,” can do. Great harm can result when a parent encourages a child to diet. So, what should parents do and say?

The most basic advice is simple: unconditional love. Beyond that basic impulse for all parenting, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) points to some basics for preventing both obesity and eating disorders in teens.

  • Discourage dieting. 
  • Model a sustainable healthy pattern for eating. 
  • Promote a positive body image. 
  • Plan for family meals. 
  • Talk health, not weight. 
  • Pay attention to bullying and mistreatment. If you see clues that something is wrong, follow up. Schools and teachers have an obligation to help. 
  • Seek out real help for obesity. Talk to your pediatrician. Seek out a qualified program with specialists who understand that obesity is a biological issue – not a character flaw or the product of bad parenting. 

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