Plant-Based Diets Have Their Unhealthy Variations Too

Vegans and vegetarians, take note. Your diet definitely does have its advantages, but it’s not all peaches and coconut milk cream.

Plant-based diets are touted as being extremely healthy, thanks to the fact that all the foods consumed come from plants: fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, and plant-based proteins. However, according to a new study, they may not be as good as you think.

A paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology detailed the results of an analysis involving over 200,000 American men and women. They placed participants in one of three categories:

  1. Overall plant-based diet, which included the consumption of all plant foods and reduced consumption of animal foods.
  2. Unhealthy plant-based diet, which included a high consumption of refined grains and other less-healthy plant foods, and
  3. Healthy plant-based diet, which focused on consuming whole grains, veggies, and fruits.

Not surprisingly, adhering to an overall plant-based diet and a healthy plant-based diet led to a decreased risk of heart disease. However, the people who followed an unhealthy plant-based diet saw an increase in their heart disease risk. The consumption of refined grains, sweetened beverages, sweets, and high-starch foods led to a higher risk of cardiovascular disorders.

Just because you’re eating plants doesn’t mean you’re eating right.

Plant-based diets do involve the consumption of more dietary fiber, along with vitamins and minerals. If done correctly, they can be an amazing way to lose weight, improve digestion, and decrease cardiovascular risk significantly. However, as this study proved, it’s possible to follow a wrong plant-based diet.

The study adds to the substantial evidence that a predominately plant-based diet reduces heart disease risk. Not all plant-based foods are equally healthy, but plant-based diets with whole grains, unsaturated fats and an abundance of fruits and vegetables “deserve more emphasis in dietary recommendations.” The long-term follow up allowed authors to examine dietary patterns and analyze the effect of gradual adherence to a plant-based diet through reduced animal food intake and increased plant food intake on heart disease risk.

Vegans and vegetarians, take note. Your diet does have its advantages, but it’s not all peaches and coconut milk cream. As long as you focus on high-fiber, high-nutrient whole grains, seeds, nuts, fruits, veggies, and plant-based proteins, you’re in for good health.


1. Ambika Satija, Shilpa N. Bhupathiraju, Donna Spiegelman, Stephanie E. Chiuve, JoAnn E. Manson, Walter Willett, Kathryn M. Rexrode, Eric B. Rimm, Frank B. Hu. “Healthful and Unhealthful Plant-Based Diets and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in U.S. Adults.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2017; 70 (4): 411-422 DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2017.05.047.