Bad nutrition. There’s a lot of it out there, on the interwebs! Impossible to decipher, with potentially damaging consequences and with clickbait par for the course in media-land these days you’d be fortunate to avoid it.

Perhaps you came across this recent report from the Independent? With the headline declaring “Vegetarian Diets Can Lead To Higher Risk Of Heart Disease,” it appeared the piece was all set to upend the scientifically sound plant-based world – and not for the better. However, this caption, while unsettling in its own right, didn’t hold a candle to the article’s content which was just a tad confusing – to say the very least.

Fine tooth comb at the ready – Let’s take a look…

1. “…they examined the effects of three different types of ‘vegetarian’ diets: one which emphasized plants but included some meat…”

The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, fungi, algae, yeast and/or some other non-animal-based foods…with, or without, dairy products, honey and/or eggs. A vegetarian does not eat foods that consist of, or have been produced with the aid of products consisting of or created from, any part of the body of a living or dead animal…”

So, as per the above, while there are a few different types of vegetarian diets (“with, or without dairy…”), however none of which include the consumption of meat.

2. “…cardiologists have warned some vegetarian food can be just as bad for you after a study found eating a lot of sweet food and drink, refined grains and potatoes was linked to a higher risk of heart disease…”

With this one, we need to know a little about the difference between healthy and less healthy plant foods. This is not clearly defined in the report, as “sweet food and drink, refined grains and potatoes” certainly do not belong in the same category!

The latter, potatoes, fall into the whole plant sphere…think fruit and veg – nature’s best, straight from the ground! Whereas the remaining three belong in the processed plant fragment domain…think sugar, oil and refined flour – where the original plant has been broken down through mechanical or chemical means (essentially processed food!). 

As you can see, there’s a major difference between the two! And it should be immediately obvious which group has the potential to initiate disease. What’s also clear is that all of the foods mentioned above are not specific to a vegetarian diet – with some/all of these also known to be part of an omnivorous diet.

Yet, they could also be regular features of a vegan dinner plate! To explain, let me use this next statement to give you the low-down…

3. “…plant-based diets with whole grains, unsaturated fats and an abundance of fruits and vegetables “deserve more emphasis in dietary recommendations”…”

This is a whole-food plant-based diet. But isn’t this just another way to describe a vegan diet? Well, sort of, but there’s one subtle, but very crucial, distinction.

According to PETA, “a vegan…does not consume meat, dairy products, eggs, honey, or any product derived from an animal…”

And, as you will notice, this definition really only covers what’s excluded in the vegan diet. A whole-food plant-based diet, by way of it’s title alone, explains not only what it excludes, but also, more critically, what it includes!

With this in mind, while the vegetarian, omnivore and vegan can technically fill up on the kinds of processed foods that have just been outlined, the #wfpb camp, in its avoidance of such unhealthy plant derivatives, will ultimately keep the likes of heart disease, which is the U.S.’s present #1 killer, at bay.

Now, let’s look at some numbers…


While the piece doesn’t really address the additional enormous impact of meat and dairy, just seeing how well whole plants stack up even on this front, they absolutely deserve more of a plug in terms of dietary recommendations. In fact,Dr. Kim A. Williams, the president-elect of the American College of Cardiology specifically advises his patients a vegan diet for this very reason.

In addition to this, Dr. Dean Ornish (President of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute), found that patients who were put on a vegan diet had less coronary plaque and fewer cardiac events.

Ultimately what we can conclude from this is that the Independent’s article is riddled with errors and misleading information. An important takeaway being to air on the side of caution when it comes to receiving nutritional information, and simply look at the evidence.

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% of people with heart disease who avoided cardiac arrest through following a whole-foods, plant-based diet: [Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr MD]

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