Guided by a growing consensus among nutrition experts, Canada’s Food Guide1, The Planetary Health Diet – EAT2, and a growing number of health and environmental associations,3 call for an increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. Simultaneously, they are advocating for reductions in  the consumption of meat, dairy and eggs – calling for swaps with plant proteins4, or lower fat versions.  Health Canada recommends that Canadians “choose proteins that come from plants everyday.”

Plant-based diets have significant health benefits.

In the review article, Plant-Based Dietary Patterns for Human and Planetary Health6 the authors write, “It is time for developed nations to commit to red meat reduction targets and shift to plant-based dietary patterns.” They recognize that significant barriers exist and call on governments to help overcome those barriers.7

A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 estimated that increased consumption of whole grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and fruit could prevent millions of premature deaths each year.7 Both the Dieticians of Canada and the American Association of Dieticians have stated that well planned plant-based diets have substantial health benefits and are appropriate for all stages of human development.8,9

The information in this graphic was taken from the Global Burden of Disease study7

Cardiovascular Health

Canada’s Food Guide: Resources for health professionals and policymakers10, describes cardiovascular disease as a serious public health concern in Canada. Almost 50% of deaths from cardiovascular disease were attributed to dietary risks in 201710. Dietary risks include low intake of nutritious foods, such as fruit and vegetables. In Canada, fruit and vegetable intakes are consistently low despite recommendations for Canadians to consume more10.

A paired study of identical twins recently conducted by researchers at Stanford University11 Found that a vegan diet improves overall cardiovascular health significantly more than does a healthy omnivorous diet. “In this randomized clinical trial of the cardiometabolic effects of omnivorous vs vegan diets in identical twins, the healthy vegan diet led to improved cardiometabolic outcomes compared with a healthy omnivorous diet”12.

Diabetes Prevention and Management

A diet containing more plant fibre, such as whole grains, has been shown to lower the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes13 and to be good in managing the disease.14 Whole and minimally processed plant foods are high in fibre, low in saturated fats, and have been found to reduce insulin resistance and improve glycemic control.15, 16 A recent systematic review found that a vegan diet is associated with reduced incidence of diabetes.17 The American Diabetes Association has named beans a “super food,” and state that beans and legumes provide high quality protein, health fats and fiber.18

Cancer Risk Reduction

The Adventist Health Study-2, a long-term population health study, found that people who consumed a plant-rich diet experienced a reduction of the overall incidence of several cancers19. Plant-rich diets have been found specifically to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, as well as overall cancer mortality.20

In a review comparing ketogenic diets to plant-based diets, it was found that “the collective evidence supports plant-enriched diets vs ketogenic diets for the reduction of cancer risk and the improvement of metabolic disorders in survivors.” The authors emphasize there’s no rigorously tested diet to recommend for treatment of cancer in any post-diagnostic setting, but available data supports plant-based diets when compared to ketogenic diets for prevention.21

Weight Management

Globally, we are experiencing an unprecedented level of diseases related to overconsumption and under-nourishment. According to the EAT-Lancet Commission,22 worldwide, 2.1 billion adults are overweight or obese. Obesity, and simply being overweight are associated with increased risk for a range of chronic diseases7.

Plant foods are generally low in calories and saturated fats, but high in fibre and antioxidants. Including unprocessed plant foods in your diet can lead to healthy weight loss23. Well designed vegan diets have been found to be among the most effective for weight loss, and all the better for healthy weight loss.24, 25

Zoonotic diseases

The majority of infectious diseases in humans originate from animals. Many experts are warning that as agriculture continues to intensify, modern industrial farming has created serious risks of new and emerging infectious diseases.26, 27 Confinement, genetic homogenization, concentrated animal waste, and movement of farm workers between farms are all aspects of industrialized farming that are putting us all at risk for disease development and transmission.

This figure was created based on information obtained from the National Public Health Institute publication “One Health, Many Approaches: CDC Fosters a One Health Strategy in NPHI”28

Avian Influenza 

Experts are specifically concerned about H5N1, a strain of avian influenza that has a very high mortality rate when contracted by humans29. Cases of H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) have been reported by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in both commercial poultry and backyard flocks in most provinces since 2021.30  According to the Chicken Farmers of Canada the current avian influenza trend is persistent and is the largest outbreak ever seen in Canada.31 Over 7.5 million commercial poultry and egg-producing birds have been culled across Canada as of July 2023.32  Human infections are rare, but serious, and most common among people working directly with infected poultry.33 While HPAI risk remains low and has not been detected in mammal-to-person or person-to-person transmission in Canada (as of July 2023),34 the greater the extent of bird and other animal infection by this disease, the greater is the risk that a form readily transmitted among humans may develop.35 At any one time globally, nearly 80 billion farmed animals are being raised to provide food for human consumption. Over 70 billion of these farmed animals are chickens.36

Further resources to assist with plant-based meal planning can be found at the following links:

Brenda Davis: My Vegan Plate and Designing an Optimal Diet.

Try plant-based for 21 days here.

Dr. Pamela Fergusson, a Canadian plant-based dietician and health expert recommends a whole foods plant-based diet.

Plant-Based Health Professionals of the UK have several excellent fact sheets free to download.

Notable Nutrients are explained in this fact sheet:37

NOTABLE NUTRIENTS37

Fiber

Abundant in a whole food plant based diet, promoting a healthy gut microbe, improving satiety, cholesterol, cancer.

Vitamin B12

Not made by plants or animals but microorganisms. Deficiency is an issue for all dietary patterns. Supplementation is required on a whole food plant based diet (tablet or fortified foods).

Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium is easily obtained from plant sources, including greens, beans, and fortified foods. No negative effect on bone health if dairy is avoided. Vitamin D is mainly made by the action of the sun on skin. A supplement is recommended for all during the winter months.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Plant sources include algae, walnuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and soya beans. This avoids the pollutants in fish such as mercury, dioxins, PCBs.

Iron

Iron stores may be lower but will not be associated with deficiency. The avoidance of haem iron is beneficial given its role in cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Iodine, zinc and selenium

Iodized salt and seaweed provide iodine, which is needed in moderation. Phytates in grains and beans can reduce zinc absorption, however, soaking, fermenting and sprouting can increase absorption. Good sources of zinc are tempeh and miso, nuts and seeds. Selenium is found in grains, seeds, and nuts. Just two Brazil nuts will provide your daily requirement.

References 

  1. Canada’s Food Guide https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/
  2. The Planetary Health Diet – EAT: https://eatforum.org/learn-and-discover/the-planetary-health-diet/
  3. A Well-Fed World https://awellfedworld.org/issues/environment/eat-plants-for-planet/
  4. Canada’s Food Guide: Cooking with Plant-Based Protein Foods: https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/cooking-skills/cooking-plant-based-protein-foods
  5. Canada’s Food Guide: Eat Protein Foods https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/healthy-eating-recommendations/make-it-a-habit-to-eat-vegetables-fruit-whole-grains-and-protein-foods/eat-protein-foods/
  6. Read about this and more in this excellent review of studies “Plant-Based Dietary Patterns for Human and Planetary Health”
  7. Lancet (2012). A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990–2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4156511/
  8. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, July 2009 Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets (andeal.org)
  9. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, June 2003  2003_ADA_position_paper.pdf (vrg.org)
  10. Canada’s Food Guide: Resources for health professionals and policy makers https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/guidelines/section-1-foundation-healthy-eating/
  11.  Stanford Medicine (2023): Twin research indicates that a vegan diet improves cardiovascular health https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2023/11/twin-diet-vegan-cardiovascular.html
  12. JAMA (2023): Cardiometabolic Effects of Omnivorous vs Vegan Diets in Identical Twins A Randomized Clinical Trial https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2812392
  13. European Journal of Epidemiology, April, 2017, Vol 32 Food groups and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies | European Journal of Epidemiology (springer.com)
  14. PLOS Medicine, March 2020 Dietary fibre and whole grains in diabetes management: Systematic review and meta-analyses | PLOS Medicine
  15. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology: A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466941/#:~:text=Diets%20based%20in%20whole%20and,shown%20to%20promote%20insulin%20sensitivity.
  16. The Impact of Vegan Diet in the Prevention and Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34205679/#:~:text=We%20found%20that%20a%20vegan,the%20majority%20of%20included%20studies
  17. Nutrients (2021) The Impact of Vegan Diet in the Prevention and Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34205679/#:~:text=We%20found%20that%20a%20vegan,the%20majority%20of%20included%20studies
  18. The American Diabetes Association Best Protein Choices for Diabetes |ADA
  19. Adventist Health Study https://adventisthealthstudy.org/
  20. BMC Medicine (2022) Plant-based dietary patterns defined by a priori indices and colorectal cancer risk by sex and race/ethnicity: the Multiethnic Cohort Study https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-022-02623-7
  21. JAMA Oncology (2022) Plant-Based and Ketogenic Diets As Diverging Paths to Address Cancer A Review
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10184023/
  22. Lancet (2019)  Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30660336/
  23. Journal of General Internal Medicine (2015) Vegetarian Diets and Weight Reduction: a Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-015-3390-7?mc_cid=9c67e30310
  24. Nutrition (2015) Comparative effectiveness of plant-based diets for weight loss: A randomized controlled trial of five different diets https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0899900714004237 
  25. Medical News Today (2018) Are vegan diets good for weight loss? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321477
  26.  Public Health Reports (2008) The Animal-Human Interface and Infectious Disease in Industrial Food Animal Production: Rethinking Biosecurity and Biocontainment https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2289982/
  27. Environ Resour Econ (Dordr). (2020) Infectious Diseases and Meat Production https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7399585/
  28. One Health, Many Approaches: CDC Fosters a One Health Strategy in NPHIs https://www.cdc.gov/globalhealth/healthprotection/nphi-10th-anniversary/one-health-security.html
  29. World Health Organization (2012) Influenza: H5N1 https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/influenza-h5n1#:~:text=What%20is%20H5N1%3F,or%20%22bird%20flu%22).
  30. Canadian Food Inspection Agency (2023) Avian Influenza (bird flu) https://inspection.canada.ca/animal-health/terrestrial-animals/diseases/reportable/avian-influenza/eng/1323990856863/1323991018946
  31. Chicken Farmers of Canada (2023) Avian Influenza – information and resources https://www.chickenfarmers.ca/avian-influenza/
  32. Status of ongoing avian influenza response by province – Canadian Food Inspection Agency (canada.ca)
  33. Virus Disease (2022) Avian influenza revisited: concerns and constraints  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13337-022-00800-z
  34.  National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health (2023). Avian influenza A(H5N1) and the continuing outbreak https://ncceh.ca/sites/default/files/2023-07/Avian%20flu%20update_2023_EN_0.pdf
  35. Overview of how Canada prevents, prepares and responds to bird flu outbreaks – Canadian Food Inspection Agency
  36. Our World in Data (2019) Meat and Dairy Production https://ourworldindata.org/meat-production
  37. Plant-Based Health Professionals UK: Notable Nutrients Factsheet https://plantbasedhealthprofessionals.com/wp-content/uploads/HE-KEY-BENEFITS-OF-PLANT-BASED-NUTRITION.pdf?fbclid=IwAR02-Uh5cyCMwRShizk3Hc0om6csSXVkDGngrRONgOe298qSC_n-pSg-JU0