Award Best Scientific Paper of 2018

grant holder
Dr. Zhangling Chen,
Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Dr. Zhangling Chen,

A more plant-based diet: less adiposity and less weight gain over time

Dr. Zhangling Chen, a researcher at the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, has won the Alpro Foundation Award for best publication for her study. She received this award for her publication ‘Plant-based Diet and Adiposity Over Time in a Middle-aged and Elderly Population’.

The main takeaway from her study is that a more plant-based diet is accompanied by lower weight gain and less body fat over time.

The study that Chen carried out, under the supervision of Dr. Trudy Voortman, was part of the Rotterdam Study, involving 9600 Dutch participants.

What is exceptional about this study is that a continuous plant-based diet index was calculated. According to this index, the health benefits were found to increase with more consumption of plant-based foods and less consumption of animal-derived foods. Previous studies divided the participants into strict categories of vegans, vegetarians or meat eaters, but this study demonstrates that it is not necessary to eat a completely vegetarian diet to achieve positive results.

Compared to the group with the lowest plant-based index, those in the group with the most plant-based diet (but who were not strictly vegetarians or vegans), had, over an average period of 7 years:

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

Dr Chen: “A beneficial plant-based diet for improvement of adiposity does not require a total elimination of animal-derived products, but instead can be achieved by a moderate increase in plant-based foods and moderate decrease in animal-based foods“. 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.

In conclusion: 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.


Dr. Zhangling Chen will move to Harvard University for a position as visiting researcher at the School of Public Health with Professor Frank Hu, where she will continue to study plant-based diets. In other words, she is a true ambassador for research into plant-based nutrition. The grant accompanying the Alpro Foundation award will help to finance her stay at Harvard.


Reference: Chen Z, Schoufour JD, Rivadeneira F, Lamballais S, Ikram MA, Franco OH 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.