According to the research, published in Current Developments in Nutrition, there is “strong evidence” that consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds acts as a “protective” for cardiometabolic disease.
Reviewing recent evidence about the relative contributions of plant-based foods and animal-based foods to healthy dietary patterns, the study aimed to discuss current consumption patterns and dietary recommendations.
Although some animal products such as unprocessed lean red meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products are recommended in dietary patterns to prevent cardiometabolic diseases, many health professionals advocate for exclusively plant-based dietary patterns, the researchers – led by Pennsylvania State University's Dr Penny Kris-Etherton - noted.
However, they concluded, epidemiological evidence suggests that “small quantities” of animal protein consumed alongside plant protein are also associated with a lower risk factor.
Randomised controlled studies show that nutrient dense diets containing animal protein, including some unprocessed lean meats, improve cardiovascular disease risk factors, they added.
“It is likely that consumption of animal products, at recommended levels, in the context of a dietary pattern that meets recommendations for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes, and does not exceed recommendations for added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat may not increase cardiometabolic risk,” the study postulated.
Dr Kris-Etherton, senior author of the article, commented: “Today, dietary guidance policies are moving away from nutrient-based recommendations and toward dietary pattern-based recommendations in many countries.
“Recommendations have shifted more toward dietary patterns emphasising plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, soy products and vegetable oils based on the strong evidence for support of cardiometabolic health that surrounds these sources.”
Current dietary guidance
While the current guidance offered by governments reflects the need to get more protein from plant-based sources, adherence to these recommendations is “suboptimal”.
The researchers argue that – rather than debating the merits of dietary patterns that are exclusively plant-based or include animal sources in recommended amounts – the focus should be on aligning earing patterns with dietary guidelines.
“The evidence presented in this paper reminds us that rather than engaging in debates about whether diets should be exclusively plant-based or include animal, the focus should be consumption of foods in recommended amounts to support cardiometabolic disease prevention,” said Dr Michael Flock of the Clinical & Translational Sciences Institute at the University of Pittsburgh.
The paper suggested that nutritionists must facilitate change at the individual and population level. Advocacy activities are “urgently needed” to create a healthier food environment.
‘Healthy dietary patterns for preventing cardiometabolic disease: the role of plant-based foods and animal products’
Authors: Kristina S Petersen, Michael R Flock, Chesney K Richter, Ratna Mukherjea, Joanne L Slavin and Penny M Kris-Etherton
Current Developments in Nutrition, November 2017