That Study About Unhealthy ‘Plant-Based Diets’ Didn’t Actually Compare Plant-Based Diets

That Study About Unhealthy ‘Plant-Based Diets’ Didn’t Actually Compare Plant-Based Diets

If you eat a plant-based diet, you don’t get an automatic get-out-of-heart-disease-free card. (There’s definitely such a thing as vegan junk food.) But a new study that supposedly confirms some plant-based diets are better than others… actually wasn’t comparing plant-based diets to each other at all.

The Headline: Unhealthful plant-based diet can increase heart diseases risk

The Story: If you wanted to compare good vegan diets to bad ones, you’d think you would start with a population of vegans. (“Plant-based” is the new buzzword for vegan and mostly-vegan diets.) But that isn’t what this study did. “In these cohorts, there are very few people who don’t eat any animal products (i.e. vegans), so it was not possible for us to do this,” author Ambika Satija told us in an email.

Instead, the study scored omnivores’ diets based on how close they were to a “healthy plant-based” or an “unhealthy plant-based” diet. Even the people with the top 10 per cent of scores still ate animal products three to four times per day. The people with the worst scores had five to six servings. That just isn’t a big difference.

The study also didn’t distinguish between healthy and unhealthy animal products: fish, yogurt, and bacon grease would all lower your scores equally.

Curious about the results anyway? Here goes. Omnivores who ate a diet that was closer to a “healthy plant based” diet were somewhat less likely to have coronary heart disease. These people got points for eating fruits, veggies and whole grains, and lost points for juice, potatoes, desserts and animal products.

The evidence in the opposite direction was stronger: People who ate an unhealthy plant-based diet, with a lot of dessert, few veggies, and little meat, had a 35 per cent greater chance of getting coronary heart disease than people who ate a lot of meat and veggies but few desserts.

The Takeaway: No part of the study compared healthy to unhealthy plant-based diets. You should still lay off the vegan junk food, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.

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