Plant-based foods are high in fiber, antioxidants, folate and phytochemicals, which are good for our overall health. These foods, especially fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, kernels and legumes, have been shown to help in the treatment of many chronic diseases. They are often also associated with a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. They lower harmful cholesterol and can prevent cancer.
However, how food affects your health depends on the foods you choose when you eat vegetarian. Studies that measure health against a vegetarian diet have mixed results. This is necessarily the case when vegetarian diets are very variable, and it also varies how much people are physically active. Intake of tobacco and alcohol also plays a role.
However, several studies show that a vegan diet reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases, harmful cholesterol, inflammation, cancer and obesity. Such results are seen where the test subjects have a high intake of fiber-rich plant foods and do not eat ultra-processed products, and in some cases when abstaining from nicotine and alcohol.
Some studies show that vegetarian and vegan diets are healthier for blood sugar, citing a link between blood sugar imbalance and consumption of red meat. Animal proteins, especially red meat, tend to increase insulin resistance and lead to poor glycemic control.
A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that diabetic patients who replace meat with beans, lentils, peas and chickpeas have lower levels of blood lipids, insulin and blood sugar. But there are also studies that show that a vegetarian diet is not necessarily better for either blood sugar, heart health, weight, inflammation or the prevention of diabetes and cancer. In those cases, the test subjects had a higher intake of fast carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice and sugar), little essential fat and little fibre. This is also typical of a western and modern vegetarian diet.