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Every Bit Counts: New Study Shows Big Benefits for Swapping Out Even 1 Daily Serving of Meat, Eggs

Want to go plant-based for your health but aren’t quite ready to overhaul your diet entirely? Good news: A new large-scale study suggests that replacing just one daily serving of animal products with whole plant foods may significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and premature death.

The meta-analysis, led by Germany-based diabetes researchers and published in the November 2023 issue of BMC Medicine, analyzed data from 37 studies that included, collectively, more than 500,000 participants over an average of 19 years. The goal was to identify links between diet and cardiometabolic health outcomes.

After adjusting for calorie intake, alcohol use, smoking, and other factors, the researchers found that replacing one daily portion of processed meat with whole grains correlated with a 36% lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Swapping in nuts for the processed meat was associated with a 27% reduction in CVD risk, while legumes were associated with a 23% reduction.

While the biggest gains were seen when swapping out processed meat, the researchers found that eating whole plant foods in lieu of red meat, dairy, and eggs also appeared to confer benefits. For instance, replacing a single serving of eggs with whole grains was associated with a 21% reduction in Type 2 diabetes risk. Replacing that same serving of eggs with nuts, meanwhile, translated to a 17% reduction in CVD, an 18% reduction in Type 2 diabetes, and a 15% reduction in all-cause mortality.

“Our findings suggest that a shift in diet from a high consumption of animal-based foods, especially red and processed meat, to plant-based foods (e.g., nuts, legumes, and whole grains) is associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality, CVD, and T2D,” the authors concluded.

Every Portion Counts

The analysis adds to the growing body of evidence that even relatively modest shifts toward a healthy plant-based diet can pay dividends. A 2020 study found that eating just one additional daily serving of fruits and vegetables was associated with a 25% lower risk of Type 2 diabetes. Two 2021 studies found dose-response relationships between healthy plant-based dietary patterns and a reduction in CVD risk. Other studies have found the inverse to be true, as well, linking added servings of red and processed meat with incremental upticks in CVD and T2D risk.

To learn more about a whole-food, plant-based diet, visit our Plant-Based Primer. For meal-planning support, check out Forks Meal Planner, FOK’s easy weekly meal-planning tool to keep you on a healthy plant-based path.

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About the Author

Headshot of Courtney Davison

About the Author

Courtney Davison

Courtney Davison is Forks Over Knives’ managing editor. A writer and editor on a wide range of subjects, she co-wrote a nationally syndicated advice column from 2016 to 2018 and co-authored the 2018 book Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice from Dear Annie. She is a longtime vegan and in her free time enjoys trying new recipes and spending quality time with her cats. Find her on LinkedIn.
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