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More Plant Food – Less Red Meat Lt. Gen. (Retd) Mahmud Ahmed Akhtar

There is an epidemic of cardio-vascular and Cerebrovascular disorders in Pakistan, warranting an urgent need to employ preventive measures. Prevention is not only better than cure, in fact it is real cure. Treatment is extremely expensive, even in the wealthy countries who have solved this problem by adopting preventive measures. For instance, if Hepatitis-C is prevented or diagnosed earlier and treated, enormous amount spent in treating its complications (like Cirrhosis, GI hemorrhage, liver failure, carcinoma, liver transplant etc.) while a fraction of funds used can eliminate the disease and solve the problem. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, primary & secondary care is badly neglected. The mere funds available are poorly utilized in tertiary care which should have the last priority.
An analysis published this month (Nov 2023) in the Journal BMC Medicine, drawing on data from 37 studies, adds to the evidence that eating fewer animals-based foods, especially processed meats and replacing with wholegrains, legumes, seeds, nuts (peanuts inexpensive) and vegetables is linked to a reduced risk of cardio-vascular disease, diabetes mellitus, their complications as well as some malignancies.

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(Lt). Gen. (R) Mahmud Ahmed Akhtar

The study is particularly more useful because it deals with dietary changes and are most strongly linked to better health. For example, the study estimated that replacing one serving per day of processed meat with a serving of whole grains, beans or nuts was associated with a 23 to 36 percent lower risk of cardio-vascular issues including heart attack, stroke, renal failure, peripheral vascular disease etc.

The analysis combined the results from studies in the United States, Europe and Asia and asked participants detailed questions about the foods they typically eat. Researchers followed them for an average 19 years and looked for correlations between diet and health. They adjusted for other factors that affect health, including calorie intake, physical activity, smoking and alcohol use.

More plants and Less meat

The benefits of following a diet, rich in wholegrains and legumes, and lower red and processed meats are backed by at least 30 years of scientific evidence, said Maya Vadiveloo, an Associate Professor of nutrition at the University of Rhode Island.
These plant-based foods are full of heart-healthy fats and fiber, which can help control blood sugar and lower diabetes risk, Dr. Sun said. They also contain beneficial plant-based compounds; legumes for example are rich in iso-flavones, which are thought to reduce inflammation and act as antioxidants.

Red and processed meats on the other hand, can be higher in saturated fat, sodium or certain compounds that can promote inflammation and contribute to chronic disease risks. The study researchers found that eating nuts instead of processed meats was associated with a 22% lowered risk of type-2 diabetes and 21% lower risk of early death. Replacing unprocessed red meat with plant-based foods was also tied to better health outcomes though the reductions in risk were smaller and the evidence, less certain. The researchers also found that in head-to-head comparison, nuts may be healthier.

How to make Plant-Based Shifts

The study showed that even relatively small dietary swaps are linked to better health. Adopting a plant-based diet does not necessarily mean eliminating all animal products.
Taking step towards eating less red meat can be good for cardio-vascular health and can help you have a more balanced, higher overall diet quality that is also good for environment. There is less consumption of water in producing plant-based diet than producing red-meat diet. It is also linked to reduced risk of cancer and may also save some money at the grocery store.

It is recommended to identify small changes that feel doable and focus on foods that one already enjoys. Try alternatives for red meat like beans or chicken. Instead of peanut butter and jelly, club sandwich. There is nothing wrong about having less protein in red meat but beans, nuts and tofu provide high quality proteins. By reducing red meat consumption and adding these nutritious plant base “one cannot go wrong.”
In conclusion, we should get ourselves customized to having more plants, vegetables, leaves, roots and lentils than consuming red meat routinely.

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