Are plant-based diets good for you?

May 2 2022

Are plant-based diets good for you?

Vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian and other plant-based diets are becoming increasingly popular. A 2018 survey by market researcher RoyMorgan showed over 12 per cent of the Australian population were eating a primarily plant-based diet.

Many people adopt plant-based diets due to concerns over animal welfare, health or environmental sustainability. Still, are vegetarian diets actually good for you? Can you be vegan and healthy? Does not eating meat, make you lack essential nutrients for good health?

Researchers from the Hunter Medical Research Institute and the University of Newcastle want to answer these questions and put vegetarian diets to the test.

The Plant-Based Diet (PBD) Cohort study aims to study the health effects of different plant-based diets. Lead investigator Grace Austin, a PhD candidate and Dietitian from HMRI's Food and Nutrition Research Program, says the study will look at many health measures.

"Our study will explore the nutritional profile and adequacy of plant-based diets. We want to know how they affect heart health, bone density, body composition and risk factors for chronic diseases," Ms Austin said.

"We also want to explore different types of plant-based diets as we know just being a vegan or a vegetarian does not mean people are eating the same foods nor are these diets automatically deemed healthy."

The term 'plant-based' covers different dietary patterns that predominately consist of plant foods but may include dairy, seafood, eggs and minimal or no animal products. 

Some examples of plant-based diets include: 

  • Vegan (no animal flesh or animal products), 
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian (includes dairy and eggs), 
  • Pesco-vegetarian (includes fish/seafood with/without dairy and eggs), 
  • Semi-vegetarian or meat-reducing (very minimal intake of animal flesh/animal products).

The PBD study is the first in Australia to specifically evaluate several types of plant-based dietary patterns with different levels of animal product consumption and link them to health and disease. 

Ms Austin said gaining a deeper understanding of the nutritional profile of plant-based diets amongst Australians could lead to improved dietary guidelines that may support plant-forward eating.

"We hope to learn the impact of plant-based diets on overall health and the risk of developing chronic diseases so that Dietitians can provide tailored nutrition advice to patients who may be struggling with chronic disease and/or seeking to adopt plant-forward eating patterns." The research team believes this research may also help to build the foundation for updating dietary guidelines with a plant-based alternative.

So which plant-based diet do you think is healthiest? Are you team Vegan, team Lacto-ovo vegetarian, team Pescatarian or team semi-vegetarian?

If you want to help advance nutrition research in the area of plant-based diets, you can sign up to be a part of the study. The research team aims to recruit over 200 adults aged between 35 and 70 years from the Hunter region to participate. Contributing to the scientific evidence around plant-based diets in Australia will only take about 2 hours of your time for some questionnaires, body scan, and a blood test.C

Click here for more information on how you can sign up or feel free to contact lead investigator Ms Grace Austin at grace.austin@uon.edu.au.