Body weight and waistlines benefit from a shift towards a more plant-based diet


The latest findings from the large Rotterdam Study concludes that individuals with a higher adherence to a diet predominantly based on plant foods was associated with a lower BMI, waist circumference and body fat.

The author of this paper, Dr Zhangling Chen, was received the Alpro Foundation award for best paper.

Over 9,000 Dutch participants with an average age of 64 years were assessed regarding their dietary habits and various anthropometric adiposity measures. Food frequency questionnaires at baseline were used to assess dietary intakes and converted to a plant-based diet index (PDI).  Foods were classified as plant-based or animal based and divided into quintile groups according the quantity consumed and allocated a score.  The higher the PDI score the higher the plant food consumption and lower animal food consumption.

At 7-year follow-up, participants with the highest adherence to a plant-based diet has significantly better body weight and adiposity outcomes. :

  • Lower BMI (-1.3 kg/m2)
  • Smaller waist circumference (- 4.1 cm)
  • Lower body fat percentage (-2.9 percentage points)

The participants who were in the highest quintile were also less likely to smoke, highly education, older and more physically active compared to the lowest quintile and this should be taken into consideration when interpreting the data. The health benefits of adhering to a more plant-based diet was attributed to the more rounded nutritional quality of plant foods including the provision of antioxidants and fiber.

In their conclusions, the authors highlight that the benefits of a plant-based diet were achieved without the need to remove animal-derived foods from the diet altogether. The participants with the highest adherence to a plant-based diet continued to consume a certain amount of animal products, including, for example a median red meat consumption of 81.6 g/day and a median dairy consumption (milk + yoghurt) of 64.3 g/day. But this group also consumed more plant products, such as legumes, nuts and whole grains. This style of diet (generally low in saturated fats, high in unsaturated fats and fibre) is beneficial in terms of body weight and adiposity.

What does this means for public health?

This is a large cohort study adding to the current growing evidence for the significant benefits of plant-based diets to current health issues. Obesity is the number one global burden currently affecting both developed and developing countries. Additionally, obesity exists alongside a growing prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies. Healthful plant-based diets, can not only help attenuate obesity levels, but due to their more rounded nutritional profile, also help with the poor micronutrient status.

A diet higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods beyond adherence to a strict vegan or vegetarian diet was associated with lower adiposity status over time.

Chen Z et al. Plant-based Diet and Adiposity Over Time in a Middle-aged and Elderly Population: The Rotterdam Study. Epidemiology 2019;30(2):303-310


- Alpro Foundation

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