A bunch of dried fruit is a much better snack than a chorizo ​​sandwich or a ham sandwich. This statement, far from the imagination of any kid from the eighties or nineties, seems reasonable to us today (for someone not allergic to nuts); but, in addition, it is increasingly supported by evidence. Eat Healthy It is not necessarily eat green. Eating healthy is substituting animal protein for vegetable protein. These are the nuances and what science is discovering.

Vegetables “are the undisputed allies of a healthy diet,” he explains in the Newtral.es podcast. It’s not the end of the world either cancer nutritionist Emilia Gómez-Pardo. The evidence has been growing for decades and in this regard there is no debate, says the expert, who remembers that ‘vegetable’ is not just stems and leaves. Another thing is to measure to what extent replacing the consumption of products of animal origin with vegetable protein implies an improvement in health or a prolongation of life.

Sabrina Schlesinger’s team, a doctor at the German Diabetes Center, set out to do this, who has reviewed a thirty studies that evaluated populations that had turned towards vegetarianism, veganism or, simply, had vegetable protein very present in their diet, prioritizing it over animal protein. And there the f take center stageroutes of vegetables, not the vegetables themselves.

The bottom line is that replacing red and processed meats with legumes and nutsrich in protein, helps to have a better cardiovascular health. Specifically, using vegetable protein in these latter foods, as opposed to animal protein in these specific meats, reduces the risk of heart or circulatory disease.

leave behind one mini hamburgera pair of sausages or slices of york ham and replacing those 50 grams of processed meat with up to 50 grams of nuts means reduce the risk of cardiovascular pathology by 27%. Replacing that meat protein with the same amount of legumes reduces the risk by 23%, according to this review.

Plant protein (not necessarily the vegan diet) saves lives

The researchers reviewed 37 previously published studies. With that, they have concluded in the magazine BMC Medicine that “there is increasing evidence that replacing foods of animal origin with foods of plant origin is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD), type 2 diabetes and mortality from all causes.

In this sense, Gómez-Pardo highlights the role of a plant-based diet in the prevention of multiple diseases, including cancers. “One in three deaths would be preventable with a diet rich in plant products,” she points out.

Although the benefit for the heart seems slightly greater with nuts than with legumes (“probably due to their beneficial fatty acids”), it is not even necessary to replace each meat dish with one of walnuts or almonds. “Let’s not forget that one of the healthiest foods there is are legumes,” recalls the nutritionist. The legumes They are very economical products and are a source of protein vegetable and a source of fiber. These two things are directly related to health,” he emphasizes.

Are the authors of this study pointing the way toward vegetarianism? In this work they do not give indications in this regard. “Our objective was to summarize and evaluate the evidence of replacing any animal-based foods with plant-based foods on cardiometabolic health and all-cause mortality in a systematic review and meta-analysis,” they note.

But last July, another team reviewed all the quality evidence on the matter and concluded: European Heart Magazine that amount of lipids in blood –inversely linked to cardiovascular health– is lower in vegetarians or vegans. And in 2019, another study led by nutritionist and epidemiologist Joan Sabaté, an advocate of calorie restriction, came to a similar conclusion, aligning human health with planetary health.

The (nutritional) sin of the flesh

Should we opt for vegan and vegetarian diets? “Why not,” says Gómez-Pardo; but he immediately emphasizes that it is not necessary to take that leap to eat healthy. “It doesn’t have to be exclusively vegetal, but the more vegetal the better. They provide all those compounds called phytonutrientsessential for the physiological processes that fight against cancer, against cardiovascular problems, against neurological diseases,” he insists.

As for whether to opt for a vegetarian or vegan diet first, the nutritionist maintains that veganism is perfectly legitimate, there “a question of ethics weighs more.” In her view, “the good thing about healthy eating is that it is versatile for all ideologies, for all tastes, almost for all budgets.” But, with the evidence in hand, the cancer expert does not pardon red and processed meats.

His association with the certain tumors It has unleashed controversies, noise, but also a good number of studies in search of evidence that would allow – without success, for now – to give clear and general guidelines on what is safe consumption of certain types of meat. But in 2022, another work published in BMC Medicine was clear: The risk of colorectal cancer is 2% less among those who eat meat less than 6 times a week. 14% lower among vegetarians. And there is evidence that processed meats (sausages, hamburger mixes, ham, etc.) are potentially carcinogenic.

There has also been scientific voices that defend the consumption of red meat. In 2019, researchers recommended not changing the diet that includes red and processed meats. But for Gonzalo Delgado, Teagasc food quality consultant, some of the meta-analyses have ignored large studies such as PREDIMED, DPP and NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. “If they had been included, the effects found would have been greater. ”This is what in scientific jargon is called cherry picking: choose studies that are more favorable to what you are looking for”, analyzes in The Conversationin what brand of irresponsibility not to reduce meat consumption.

Meat consumption in Spain, although it has been reducing, is double that recommended by the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition (AESAN). However, it focuses on certain profiles: retired men, independent adults and adult couples without childrenmiddle and upper class.

“What is the ration that the tumor will produce? What will be the glass of alcohol that will unleash cancer? “That can’t be seen like that,” says Gómez-Pardo, who believes that it is complicated to think in terms of how much is safe with substances with mutagenic potential. “We constantly live with risks,” she remembers, so it’s not about beating ourselves up, being scared, or creating a bad relationship with food. “But you need to know what is and is not healthy in order to enjoy food. That is the most important”.