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A happy healthy heart is just one of the benefits that can result from adopting a plant-based diet according to Princess Alexandra Hospital (PAH) dietitian and Mediterranean diet researcher, Hannah Mayr.
This World Vegetarian Day, Hannah is championing even greater benefits that can be achieved by lowering your meat intake and packing your plate with fruit, vegetables and plant-based protein sources.
Having spent the last several years researching the benefits of the Mediterranean diet in the clinical setting, Hannah continues to see the positives of a predominantly plant-based way of eating.
“Eating a plant-based diet can aid in the prevention and treatment of conditions such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and even reduce the risk of certain types of cancer including bowel and prostate cancer,” she said.
“The Mediterranean diet is largely a plant-based diet which leads to a lower intake of meat, especially red and processed meat and a higher intake of legumes, nuts and wholegrains and, therefore, a higher fibre intake which has proved beneficial for a specific group of PAH outpatients.”
Hannah is currently working with dietitians, other clinicians and patients within Metro South Health to explore how the principles of the largely plant-based Mediterranean diet can be introduced into the routine care of people with chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
“Our participants reported that the diet was easy to integrate with their families, feasible, and in some cases cheaper than their regular animal product heavy diet.
“Clinical benefits also included reduced waist circumference and greater anti-inflammatory effects in the body,” she said.
The recommended plant to animal ratio is 4:1 whereas the typical Australian diet is more like 2:1.
However, according to Roy Morgan research from 2018, the number of reported Australian adults whose diet is all or almost all vegetarian has increased from 10 per cent in 2012 to 12 per cent of the population.
In the past three months at PA Hospital, approximately three per cent of patients classified themselves as vegan or vegetarian.
“There is well documented evidence to show that eating a mostly plant-based diet is beneficial, but you don’t have to cut out meat altogether.
“It’s also important to remember that not all foods labelled as vegetarian are healthier alternatives, especially pre-packaged foods or ‘meat alternatives’ high in salt, sugar or saturated fat,” she said.
According to Hannah, it’s important to do your research and ensure your body is receiving all the necessary nutrients it needs from a balanced diet.
“By appropriately planning your diet, nutrient deficiencies can be avoided quite easily.
“For example, if you decide to become vegan, it’s important to include B-12 fortified foods or a supplement as no plant-based alternative provides an appropriate level of B-12 and long-term deficiency can increase risk of stroke, dementia and poor bone health,” she said.
Other considerations need to be made such as if you are male or female, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
“I would always recommend seeing a dietitian if you are planning on changing your diet, or just want advice planning a healthy, balanced diet.