We hear a lot about the protective and beneficial components of foods and how important they are for us. These components include antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, fiber and isoflavones, to name a few.
We also know there are certain dietary components that are harmful. These include, but not limited to, saturated fats and cholesterol.
Many people ingest supplements thinking this is the easiest way to increase their intake of these nutrients and ensure nutritional adequacy. Yet, plant foods are one of the richest sources of these protective components and increasing the amount of plant foods, increases the amount of these nutrients. Plant foods are also very low in saturated fats and cholesterol so by consuming more natural occuring plant foods, we can limit our intake of these harmful components
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietitic Association looked at the what happens to these protective and harmful component when the subjects were put on a very-low-fat (10%) vegan diet.
Ninety three subjects were assigned to follow this diet and dietary records were collected and the beginning and at one year. A complete dietary analysis was performed and at the end of one year.
At the end of one year, most all known protective components increased significantly while all known harmful components decreased significantly. For example, fiber increased from a mean of 31 to 59 g/day, lycopene increased from 8,693 to 34,464 mug/day. In addition, saturated fat decreased from 20 to 5 grams/day. Cholesterol decreased from 200 to 10 mgs per day. The very low fat vegan group also received 1 gram of fish oil and soy protein, however the improvements in nutritional intake were calculated without these 2 added in.
While very low fat vegan diets are often criticized, the criticism is usually deserved if the very low fat vegan diet is poorly planned and based on refined and processed plant foods. However, as this study shows, if the very low fat diet is based on unrefined unprocessed plant foods, it can be nutritionally adequate and helpful in increasing intake of protective nutrients and phytochemicals and minimizing intake of other known harmful dietary factors.
J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Feb;108(2):347-56.
A very-low-fat vegan diet increases intake of protective dietary factors
and decreases intake of pathogenic dietary factors.
Dewell A, Weidner G, Sumner MD, Chi CS, Ornish D.